Company aims to turn sci-fi of asteroid mining into profitable fact

Planetary Resources, Inc. held a coming-out party at Seattle’s Museum of Flight Tuesday morning, with co-founder and co-chairman Peter Diamandis spelling out the simple, yet audacious, aim of the company.

“The vision of Planetary Resources is to make the resources of space available to man both in space and here on Earth,” he said.

Planetary Resources

The leadership of Planetary Resources, Inc. gathered at the Museum of Flight April 24 for a news conference to talk about the company's plans to mine asteroids. From L-R: Peter Diamandis, Eric Anderson, Chris Lewicki, and Tom Jones. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Diamandis acknowledged the wild, science-fiction nature of the notion of sending robots to asteroids to mine them for the resources we need on Earth and to further explore space. In fact, he gives sci-fi credit for shaping his personal dreams, held since his early teens, of being an asteroid miner.

“Part of it is the spirit of extraordinary writers and artists like Heinlein and Clarke and Bonestell who envisioned what the future would look like,” he said. “Ultimately my passion about opening up space makes the vision of asteroid mining not only a reality, but something that we need to do.”

The company is on a fast track. Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman, said they plan to launch their first spacecraft within 24 months, and seemed a bit taken aback at the enthusiastic applause the announcement generated.

“This company is not about paper studies. This company is not about thinking and dreaming about asteroid mining,” Anderson said. “This company is about creating a space economy beyond the Earth. It’s about building real hardware. It’s about doing real things in space to move the needle forward.”

The concept is attractively simple. Use private investors and innovators to drive down the cost of space exploration. Get the technology up in space to start examining the nine thousand near-Earth asteroids to determine which might be rich in water and precious minerals useful here on the home planet and to those who may further explore space. Send up robots to mine those materials and bring them home.

Sure, it may sound easy.

“It’s very difficult, no question,” Diamandis said, “but the return economically and the benefits for humanity are extraordinary.”

Anderson agreed.

“There will be times when we fail, there will be times when we have to pick up the pieces and try again. But we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about it, we’re just going to do it.”

Planetary Resources is based in Bellevue, Wash. Chris Lewicki, the company’s president and chief engineer, said they looked at a lot of places before settling on the Seattle area.

Arkyd

A model of the Arkyd 101, the space telescope Planetary Resources plans to launch within the next 24 months to start prospecting for asteroids to mine. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“Some of our investors were here, some of our partners were here, and it’s a beautiful place to live,” Lewicki said in explaining the choice. “All of the infrastructure and the industry that’s in the area is what we need to be able to do this.”

The company has been in existence since 2009 under the name Arkyd Aeronautics. Planetary Resources spacecraft will bear the Arkyd name. Part of the reason they’re going public with a big splash now is that they need to hire more engineers, according to Lewicki. Diamandis added that the game has changed.

“There’s a rising tide going on right now in commercial space,” he said, noting the booming investment in launch technology and in lunar and asteroid missions. Having more capital is a big deal. “That changes the equation and allows us to go much further much faster than ever before in opening up space for the benefit of all.”

The investors, for the most part, remained on the sideline, though one of them, Ross Perot, Jr., praised the effort by telephone and Charles Simonyi was on hand to make a few remarks.

“I don’t think this would be an appropriate investment for NASA,” Simonyi said of the venture. “I think that this is where private enterprise comes in. The genius of the system is that private investors can take the risks.”

“I’m very excited about what you guys are doing, I’m very proud of you and feel privileged to be a part of it,” he added.

They’ve certainly generated some buzz. A large group of reporters turned out for the news conference and hundreds of people chipped in $25 for lunch to hear about it first hand. It’s fair to say most of them are boosters. It will be interesting to watch the dream unfold.

 

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