The idea of mining operations on asteroids is long overdue. Asteroids - the remnants of the failed attempts of planets billions of years ago. Most of these residues are the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but some of them went into free flight through the solar system.
These voluntary asteroids, ranging in size from 6 meters to 16 kilometers, may contain reserves of rare earth metals of the platinum group, which are used in batteries, electronics and medical devices.
The orbit of about 9000 asteroids with a diameter greater than 40 meters, passes near the Earth. Some of them contain an amount of platinum which is mined on Earth in a year. This means that the cost occurring at such an asteroid resources is estimated at several billion dollars.
Planetary Resources intends to extract metals from the platinum group which includes platinum, palladium, osmium and iridium.
The price is only one platinum can reach 50 thousand dollars per kilogram - almost like the price of gold. The development of the upper-middle-meter asteroid with a diameter of a few kilometers, can provide 130 tons of platinum, worth $ 6 billion.
Over the next 18-24 months, Planetary Resources is going to run from two to five space telescopes, worth millions of dollars each, which will detect potentially valuable asteroids. In addition to their size and orbit, practically nothing is known about the near-Earth asteroids. Their telescope, Arkyd-101 Space Telescopes, will be called to determine how valuable these asteroids in terms of mining.
Over the next 5-7 years, the company intends to send a small fleet of spacecraft for more detailed research missions. According to their estimates, each such mission would cost $ 25 to $ 30 million.
The next step - sending robots for mining and cleaning them of impurities. Return of the spacecraft to Earth along with captured material - perhaps the most difficult stage of the entire enterprise and Planetary Resources has not yet revealed details on this part.
Only once the material has been delivered to the asteroid to Earth. It has done the Japanese Space Agency, with the help of the ship Hayabusa, which has been successfully delivered to the Earth soil samples from the asteroid Itokawa in 2010.
One option is to move up to close the asteroid world. The relatively low-powered ion engine on solar power could push him, bringing into orbit, making it something of a second moon, which will be available for development.
One of the goals is to reduce the price of platinum.
"We would be very happy, as the founders of the company, if we were able to deliver as much platinum, the price has dropped to 20-50 times," - said Eric Anderson.
Aluminum price was very high in the 1800s, while the new technology does not allow to easily separate it from the ore. Today, aluminum found themselves hundreds of applications, and roughly the same process can be expected platinum group metals with the advent of Planetary Resources.
It is worth mentioning that in the world there are large reserves of this material - platinum mine in South Africa, contain reserves for another 300 years.
"In my opinion, it makes more sense to use the extracted materials directly in space," - said John Brophy from NASA.
Asteroids contain one extremely important for astronauts substance: water. Water may be used for drinking and it can be decomposed into components. Valuable oxygen to sustain life in space colonies, and the liquid oxygen and hydrogen are used to create rocket fuel.
This "filling station" in space, can make a reality of the mission to Mars and beyond. Moreover, it will allow to establish permanent settlements in space, which is a further object of Planetary Resources.