Bellevue Company Announces Ambitious Effort to Mine Asteroids

Apr 24, 2012

A new Bellevue-based company has announced plans that sound like they come straight out of science fiction. Planetary Resources intends to send robots to nearby asteroids, and mine them for metals and other resources. The venture is backed by billionaires, rocket scientists, and a Hollywood director.

The company is interested in asteroids that are near the earth’s orbit. Scientists have identified about 9,000 of them, but they think there may be up to a million.

Those asteroids are known to contain metals —like iron, nickel and platinum. Company officials say a small asteroid could yield up to $100 billion worth of materials.

And it’s not just the precious metals. They say water from asteroids can also be used in future long-range space missions. They say it can be converted to rocket fuel in space.

Peter Diamandis is the company’s co-founder. He’s also the man behind the X Prize.

“People ask, can it really be done, how difficult is it? Let me say it can be done, and yes, it is very difficult, there is no question," Diamandis says. "We are talking about something which is extraordinarily difficult. But the returns economically and the benefit to humanity are extraordinary.”

The company has attracted several wealthy investors, including Google Executives Larry Paige and Eric Schmidt, and Microsoft retiree and space tourist Charles Simonyi. Hollywood director James Cameron is an advisor.

Within the next two years, the company plans to launch a satellite telescope into space to further study nearby asteroids. It plans its first unmanned mission to mine an asteroid within a decade.

On the Web:

Planetary Resources:

Asteroid mining FAQs:

Copyright 2012 KUOW.