Planetary Resources Make History

Solar power satellite built from an asteroid w...

Solar power satellite built from an asteroid with a Bernal sphere in the bottom right corner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Seattle based company called Planetary Resources held a press conference yesterday (Tuesday) announced a plan to mine resources from Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for both export to Earth and for support of off-Earth colonies.  This is a historic shot at commercializing space and triggering what they call a new “space gold rush”.  Here are the key people involved, some you will recognise, some you won’t…

Chris Lewicki
Tom Jones
Sara Seager
Larry Page
Eric Schmidt
James Cameron
Charles Simonyi
K. Ram Shriram
Ross Perot, Jr.

Their claim is that some of the asteroids in our solar system contain vast amounts of resources that are rare and expensive here on Earth and/or expensive to lift from Earth for developing and supporting future space colonies on destinations like the Moon and Mars.

The implications of what these people have done are staggering.

The whole idea of mining space resources is not a new one, so none of this should be a surprise.  The difference is that while the rest of us have been simply talking about it, wishing for it, and whining about it (myself included), these entrepreneurs have stepped forward and proclaimed, “By Jove, let’s just do it!”  At SpaceX‘s now increasingly credible $1000 per pound to launch payloads to low Earth orbit, things like this which have been technologically possible for some time will soon become financially profitable.

That’s just it.  This is how a massive, culture-changing advancement evolves.  It starts out as a crazy idea in someone’s head who sees it as maybe possible.  Then the other technologies that the idea relies on all get figured out until folks start to think that it is technically doable.  Then someone with deep pockets puts all of that stuff together and tries to make it financially affordable.  Now at that point it still isn’t common enough for most folks like you and me to fully wrap our arms around it, we still worry about the waste of money, we see it as frivolous, and all of that…until it reaches the last step,  when it becomes profitable.  Then it seems like all of a sudden someone rushes forward to be the first in the pool.  Then others jump in and try to do the idea better, and cheaper, and bigger, and the competition heats up, and new products are spawned based on it.  Then it becomes what is called a catalyst of change we’re all talking about it, carrying around in our pockets, wearing it on our T-Shirts, and making up cute little things to name it…integrating it into our culture until that crazy idea makes our generation completely indistinguishable from the one before.

The exciting thing about business startups that rely on space access is that they will all get thrown into a growing mix of other reasons to launch stuff to space, which in turn will make space launches increasingly more frequent and thus better and less expensive, thereby triggering even more new ideas (and empowering more old ones), which in turn will launch even more rockets.  A couple of these folks at Planetary Resources, who have become known for seeing an opportunity and jumping in and making millions (or billions) off of it, are now leaping into space tech just as they did into computer and Internet tech advances in the 80s and 90s.  This should be seen as a harbinger of something extraordinary and life changing.

For better or worse we are all about to become involved in something new and huge and scary and wonderful.  Some industries, culture elements, and even governments are going to leap into existence while others crumble into the dust of history and it will all start to happen very, very soon.  Right now we are experiencing the deep breath before the plunge.

There are those nay sayers out there who claim that all of this business of mining asteroids is all just a lot of crazy talk.  They say it is all political.  They say it is bogus.  They say it is premature and ill-conceived.  They say it’ll take too long.

To them I say, “Tthhhppppppttttttt!!!!!!!!”

Sour grapes.  Everyone who pays attention to this sort of thing saw this coming.  $1000/lb to LEO is just to low too have not started triggering things like this.

As for politics, anything that empowers private enterprise to take power away from Government and Congress and their power to control stuff and make pork is going to become political.  It is stealing fire from the gods and the gods will react abruptly to it.

Also, nothing becomes politically noteworthy until someone cares about it, so if space tech has become political it means that space tech is somewhere on the public radar (Twitter trends not withstanding).  Hey, and Planetary Resources didn’t even have to name their first spacecraft “The Justin Bieber” to get noticed!  That’s a plus!

Everyone who does pay attention to this sort of thing, and saw this asteroid mining startup coming, and had the resources to jump in and be the first, could have done so. Those people at Planetary Resources didn’t just wake up a few days ago and say, “I think I’ll put on a show for Congress and start a space mining initiative!”  They’ve been counting off the goals and challenges.  They’ve been working on this for a while. They’ve put a plan into place.  They’ve put some infrastructure contracts into place.  They’ve started developing at least one spacecraft design. They made sure that they had actual momentum before they made that phone call to the news media.

Educate yourself. Check out the study done by NASA and Boeing on the possible commercial uses of space…here’s the link:

As you read, pay close attention to how the cost of launching cargo to LEO affects the profitability of the various potential space ventures.

Then start thinking about what you’ll do to be a part of it. Try to think of something that isn’t already on the list.

~ by Bill Housley on April 25, 2012.

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