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Hank summarizes the exciting news about Planetary Resources, a company with plans to mine near-earth asteroids for precious metals and water, and what these plans might mean for humanity's future in space.

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For more information on this topic:
Planetary Resources website
http://www.planetaryresources.com/
Brief on the company from Technology Review
http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/27776/?p1=blogs
Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study
http://kiss.caltech.edu/study/asteroid/asteroid_final_report.pdf
A group of entrepreneurs and former NASA scientists offered an ambitious vision of humanities future in space yesterday when they announced the formation of Planetary Resources; a company that will mine asteroids for raw materials and in the process help pave the way for human exploration of the solar system. The company is backed by a host of famous investors, including James Cameron, the director of Titanic and Avatar, Google executive, Eric Schmidt and Larry Page and space entrepreneur Diamandis who described the venture at yesterday's press conference in Seattle as catalyzing humanities growth both on and off the Earth. Co-founder Eric Anderson said the Company will focus on near earth asteroid with a view to harvesting two main commodities:
1. Platinum group metals, which includes platinum, palladium and osmium.
2. Water, which is common here on Earth, but not so much in space.
To find these things the company will be targeting a certain group of asteroids known as Carbonaceous Chondrites which are rich in organic molecules and water, but which disintegrate when the hit the Earth's atmosphere so you have to go to space to find them.

Andersen said that the first phase of the venture will start within two years; with the launch of a series of space telescopes into low Earth orbit to scout for the most promising Near-Earth asteroids.

In another two or three years they expect to deploy what Andersen called "A swarm of robotic craft working in teams to map or prospect target asteroids". They aim to have the first group of asteroids identified within ten years.
When it comes to how the space rocks will actually be mined, the presenters were a bit more sketchy with the details. As Andersen put it: "We're still at the very beginning of what we're going to do here." In other words, meh.

But earlier this month, a study done for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory concluded that the technology is currently available to mine asteroids.
By 2025 robotic spacecraft could capture a 500 tonne asteroid and bring it in to orbit around the moon for it to be mined.
And it would only cost a mere 2.6 billion dollars and take a dozen years. So yeah, its possible, and it might even be profitable.
These guys want to make money, and if you ask me, its about time the profit motive was brought into space exploration. As Diamandis rightly pointed out, all of human exploration has been driven by the need to find and acquire natural resources. So far, humanity has done amazing things in space driven only by curiosity. But adding money as an incentive could take human exploration to a whole new level.
And even though these planetary resources guys said that the operation would be strictly robotic, asteroid mining could effectively create new infrastructure for human space travel. Particularly, by harnessing water.
When you think about it manned missions pretty much need 4 things to succeed and thrive in space: water, propellant, food and oxygen. And three of those things -- everything except food -- can be derived directly from water and its components, oxygen and hydrogen. Plus water can be used to create shields against cosmic radiation, and it can help in the creation of food in space.

So as far as these fancy valuable metals go, hopefully that will help them make some money. But water is going to be, by far, the most important commodity in the future of space travel.
Andersen himself said that within ten years, his company could establish orbiting fuel stations dispensing hydrogen and oxygen found on asteroids to power passing space craft.
All of this makes it so that we don't have to haul huge amounts of water up to the space craft to power them, and so that astronauts don't die of thirst.
All I can say is planetary resources: best of luck to you.

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