Company plans to mine asteroids

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Could this century’s equivalent of the 19th-century gold rush come in space?

At least two start-up companies are putting money and impressive names in science, business and even entertainment behind the theory that platinum and other precious metals can be mined out of this world and brought back to Earth to become parts of our cell phones and other important electronic devices.

Planetary Resources, which boasts filmmaker James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt among its backers, is holding a 1:30 p.m. ET press conference Tuesday at Seattle’s Museum of Flight to announce what it calls “a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity’s prosperity.”

“The company will overlay two critical sectors space exploration and natural resources to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources,'” the release for the press conference reads.

First up for the Bellevue, Washington, company will be putting a surveying telescope into Earth orbit within two years. That instrument will look for near-Earth asteroids that contain precious metals and water, company co-founder Eric Anderson told Bloomberg. Within four years, prospecting could begin on those objects, Anderson said.

Company co-founder Peter Diamandis told Reuters a single 100-foot-long asteroid could contain $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum.

“There are precious metals in near-infinite quantities in space. When the availability of these metals increase, the cost will reduce on everything including defibrillators, hand-held devices, TV and computer monitors, catalysts; and with the abundance of these metals we’ll be able to use them in mass production,” Diamandis said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Anderson told Bloomberg that mining in space makes more environmental sense than mining on Earth.

“Ripping up the Earth’s crust not only is terribly intrusive from an environmental point of view, but it’s actually really expensive and really hard. Why not go to the source?” he is quoted as saying.

Besides mining for metals, Planetary Resources also hopes to use hydrogen and oxygen from water on the asteroid to make fuel for even more space missions, according to the reports.

While Planetary Resources focuses on asteroids, another company says it’s the moon we should be mining.

Moon Express of Mountain View, California, announced Tuesday it had recruited five top lunar scientists to join its advisory board as it makes plans to extract precious metals from the moon.

The company says asteroids have been hitting the moon for ages, depositing the precious metals they carry on the lunar surface.

“There is clear evidence of significant platinum group metals on the moon from Apollo samples and lunar meteorites, and we’ve discovered evidence for localized hotspots that will help us choose landing sites to practice mining techniques,” Alan Stern, the chief scientist at Moon Express, said in a press release.

“I believe that the presence of water and ease of mining platinum group elements on the Moon’s surface far, far trumps arguments that NEO’s (asteroids) are energetically easier to get samples from than the moon,” Stern said in the release.

Moon Express plans to send robots to explore mining sites on the moon, the company says.

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