Have you given much thought to the vast amount of material out in space? It turns out there is plenty of amazing stuff in the hundreds of asteroids that pass near Earth every year, and one startup working on getting those materials back down planetside.
Planetary Resources is an asteroid mining company founded by engineers from NASA, JPL, SpaceX, and Intel, and is on the brink of closing a million-dollar Kickstarter to fund Arkyd 100, a public space telescope. The company has an extensive timetable to send a handful of little satellites to make both space exploration and mining less expensive and more expansive.
Their AmA on Reddit today opened up just how they plan on doing it all, and here are the highlights.
1. Water, interestingly, is the prime material Planetary Resources hopes to mine.
“Right now, we think we have a okay idea of what there is in various types of asteroids from the 50,000 meteorite samples that have landed on Earth. We expect to mine water out of C-type asteroids for the first product. Water gets used for everything in space – drinking, breathing, rocket fuel, radiation shielding… and is very expensive in space given launch costs.”
2. After water, heavy metals with limited supply on Earth, including platinum, iridium, and palladium, are on the must-get list.
“The natural metal in asteroids is more or less a stainless steel. The metal has high nickel content, potentially high cobalt as well as a mess of other metals (PGM, scandium, etc in various amounts). Back in the 1970s, NASA designed a process to extract individual materials from the asteroid material. This system used carbon monoxide to extract pure nickel, iron, and cobalt from native metal.”
3. Asteroid mining is coming quickly — within the next few years
“There are several short term milestones and some longer term goals. In late spring 2014, we are launching a small satellite called A3 to demonstrate our core technologies. In 2015 we will launch the A100 space telescopes, one of which is the subject of our Kickstarter.”
4. The biggest threat to the mining and telescope satellites? Radiation in space.
“The radiation environment of space is very unfriendly to electronics and certain materials. We have to worry about single event upsets, which can cause glitches in electronics and software, and total dose, which can eventually kill electronics. The challenge is in building a spacecraft that is robust to random transient and permanent failures, and able to survive long enough and be reliable enough to do something useful.”
5. No extra laws required: Planetary Resources is applying Earth’s statutes to space to ensure standardized practices.
“There are many precedents from the long history of mining and resource development on Earth. We expect to leverage the current mining industry’s practices as industry norms and regulations are developed alongside our emerging industry in space.”