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back to article Google founders, James Cameron, go asteroid mining

A powerful cabal of tech, media and aeronautics uber executives are set to reveal how their freshly launched company Planetary Resources, will scope for natural resources outside of planet earth. The new entity, backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Google board member K.Ram Shriram, filmmaker and …

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Coat

Now all they need to invent...

... is the Cobra Mark III and a Mining Laser.

Right on, Commander!

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Re: Now all they need to invent...

...hardly seems worth it. Now smuggling Slaves and Narcotics, that's where the real money is..

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Re: Now all they need to invent...

Gosh, you old git!

More up to date inventions required:

Split Caiman with Ore Collector, Mobile drilling system, mineral scanner, mining software upgrade.

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Re: Now all they need to invent...

Didn't even realise you could get Caiman Miners - I've always used Demeters for some reason... now for UTs I'll go Caiman Hauler every time ;)

(...and I thought I was the only X player here)

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Re: Now all they need to invent...

Not by a long shot :) I see X-ers pop up on the El Reg boards from time to time...

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James Cameron on board, hmmm?

It's the year 2112, the space-liner 'Overused Metaphor' sets off on her maiden voyage to New New York and the rings of Saturn. No expense has been spared, apart from providing life-saving equipment, and the ship is declared "unbreachable" by an overconfident media.

A star-crossed couple looking a lot like Kate and Leonardo attempt to reenact the infamous 'flying from the bows of the ship' scene. Lacking space suits, they rapidly decompress...

More general fun with an uncharted asteroid, made of icy water, follows later on.

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Boffin

Re: James Cameron on board, hmmm?

> Lacking space suits, they rapidly decompress...

No, they don't.

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Re: James Cameron on board, hmmm?

In space... no one can hear you warble "My Heart Will Go On".

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Did the research already.

There is a difference between 'rapid' and 'explosive' decompression. Unless vacuum isn't vacuum?

And i hoped I'd harvest at least one comment like this regardless, thanks!

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Re: James Cameron on board, hmmm?

Pretty sure Futurama already did that plot.

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Flame

Instruction Manual

An open source Space Engineering reference book is under construction here:

http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods

If you want to find out how all this might be done, it's a starting point.

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Emo
Joke

When asked what he thought about the collaboration, betweem film, internet dotcoms and ex NASA boffs, astronaught Tom Jones replied 'It's not unusual'.

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That's the only time I have ever laughed at a "joke alert" icon'd post.

Well done mate.

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Emo

Lets hope they get Fleet bonus's too.

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What resource?

It can't be mining asteroids, there is no evidence of any minerals in the asteroid belt that:

a) are of any use.

b) can't already be mined on earth for a miniscule fraction of the cost of mining from an asteroid.

c) couldn't be synthesised already on earth for a fraction of the cost of mining from an asteroid

Maybe its orbital solar power stations? given the current state of spaceflight tech thats got to be more practical than mining asteroids that are millions of kilometers away.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What resource?

Never let facts get in the way of a good press release!

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Re: What resource?

Not only that, but why do the investors get the headline when they contribute nothing other than money? The headline belongs to the team that has conceived of and will be running the program.

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Re: What resource?

It's true that everything in space can be found on Earth far more cheaply, but that is to overlook the one main difference between them. Stuff in space is IN SPACE. It would costs $$$ to put stuff in space, why not use stuff that is already there.

NASA wants to go to Mars but it takes lots of propellant to get there, it would be very handy if you could refuel in space rather than dragging it all up from Earth.

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Go

Re: What resource?

Well most of the investors are American, and coal still accounts for over 40% of their energy supply so they probably looked at all those C type Astros and wet themselves.

"it says they're 3 times further out than Earth, how far is that James?"

"it's not very far"

"What about these silica ones, are they any good"

"well silicon is used in computers, and everyone wants computers right?"

"let's do it, anything we find that isn't coal or sand is just gravy"

And that's how James Cameron, the first man to solo dive to the bottom of the Ocean also became the first man to stand on an Asteroid.

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Alien

The resource is water

By far the most readily available workable asteroid mineral is plain old ordinary water, and the designated target asteroids are 40% water by mass. Properly (and easily) refined in space this water becomes an equal mass of LH2/LO2 (liquid hydrogen and oxygen), also known as "rocket fuel", in a near-zero g environment. Kilotons of the stuff. It makes nice drinking water and breathable air too, and it might be possible in the longer term to actually grow produce in space to provide food and provisions to humans, though this is a minor impact over the fuel issue. The ready availability of kilotons of LH2/LO2 at LEO will make Man's leap from Earth possible. I've been wondering for a while when this would be figured out. I would imagine that LH2/LO2 at LEO would be very valuable. The initial missions require Xenon propellant because on-orbit LH2/LO2 is prohibitively expensive, but if they succeed this will change.

One of the limiting factors of space exploitation is the obscene cost of getting rocket fuel into space in the first place. Every kilo on orbit costs hundreds of kilos of rocket fuel to put it there, and you still have to spend almost all of that kilo to get it and your mission out of cislunar space before you even start heading somewhere interesting. If robotic operations can refine LH2/LO2 they can dip down to LEO to pick up passengers and equipment and move them quickly to where they need to be. A relatively tiny robotic factory can work every moment (night & day seems out of place here, because there is no night) continuously accumulating product.

If you have a robotic rocket fuel factory in high lunar orbit you can sell its output to people who want to do things in space at a considerable profit. You can then fuel robotic lunar landing craft to collect more water to refine from the lunar poles until you have unlimited fuel. You don't even have to claim you own this space produce (a political sticky point): you can charge for delivery and processing only. You can fuel, for example, manned trips to Mars the quick way rather than the slow way, and ensure that it's a round trip rather than a one-way trip. You can even send robotic fuel ships in advance to await the human mission in orbit around Mars, or anywhere else in the solar system.

Yes, asteroids contain other minerals too like iron, nickel, gold, platinum, iridium, that might someday be used to make space stations and whatnot or be returned to Earth for industrial uses. One day we'll do this, but the tooling to do it in zero g is currently not available. I imagine some sort of purified iron 3d printer is currently in design. Water to rocket fuel though is easily done and readily available. Most likely the waste minerals will be dumped on the lunar surface for the foreseeable future.

There are many now who would propose some different plan as if this was a NASA endeavor and they got to vote on it. Others would say this is a bad plan. This is one of the prime problems with publicly funded missions and one of the other chief impediments to exploitation of space: people can't agree on what to do, can't take a long view. They can't get committed to one course long enough to achieve it across different administrations, because one of the first things a new administration does is retask NASA and prevent completion of the space vision of the previous administration. Some want to mine the moon first, or build a space elevator, or do manned exploration, or sciency things. Every administration that comes into office immediately scraps the plans of the previous to make their own mark, proposing ironically a grand new vision that extends beyond their tenure. And so nothing gets done because the US political system lacks consistent purpose by design and these things take a long time window. But this isn't a publicly funded NASA mission. This is a commercial endeavor. Commercial endeavors don't have these problems. They don't need the public's active encouragement, nor absent persistence of vision.

To those who propose something else I would say "You want to do that? Fine. Gather up some money and do that. These guys, they want to fetch some asteroids and they're done with the "gather up money" part. It's their money, they actually do have the money, and they don't tell you what to do with your money. They're not asking you to pay for it. They're some of the most successful businessmen on Earth, so there's a good chance they have a plan to turn a profit." If you want to mine the moon, for example, you may find that mission more easily achieved by buying some fuel at LEO from these guys.

These guys mean to do this, and they know how to do it, and they have the money to do it. It's a real thing. They're some of the smartest people on the planet. Complaining that you have a better idea is just dumb. They have enough money to do this 50 times over at least, it doesn't require the invention of anything new or impossible, so it's going to happen and there's no risk it's going to fail. They don't have to ask you. They might, if they feel generous, let people invest and if they do I'm all in.

Space is big. Really, really big. It has more stuff in it than all the world by 12 orders of magnitude at least. What's at stake here is so much money that "all the money in the world" dwindles to a gnat's whisker. I, for one, am glad that there are humans with enough money, vision and will to pull it off. For a while there I was thinking I would die before Men turned this corner.

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Re: The resource is water

Basically, Mikel is right, I say. You need to lower the cost of access to orbit and, more crucially, the cost of orbit-to-the-ground by a huge margin before mining the asteroids becomes profitable.

You need very high (unrealisticaly high) levels of purity (above 4% at the very minimum) in sufficient quantities before bringing rocks, or bits of rocks, back to Earth AND MAKING A PROFIT.

But once you've got your first refinery/smelter/factory going, then building/fueling the (rapid) expansion of humanity across the Solar System becomes eminently possible.

We'll have to wait until tomorrow before we see if they are talking about propellent depots or whether they're going to try and send a miner off to a rock somewhere...

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Re: The resource is water

They're not going to reveal the whole plan Tuesday. They're going to give only what they think they need to garner popular support. It's a commercial endeavor and they have significant interest in keeping most of the facts proprietary. Frankly, if they gave the game away they'd have considerable competition from India and China because the ROI is something like infinity. And no, that's not an exaggeration or a math error - I do know what infinity is. Approaching infinity is quite literally the potential ROI for this investment, because they could become in control of all the universe outside cislunar space, which drives the investment to an almost infinitesimal fraction of All That Is. And that's close enough to satisfy my linguistic conditionals for relative to infinity. I could say orders of magnitude (12+) but some "savant" would show up with a proof that it was more or less.

These guys think big and long term. I have to admire that. I have had talks with my youngest few about being on the boat. I will redouble those efforts now.

Whether you or I see a profit in it is, however, irrelevant. The guys involved have enough confetti between them to buy an entire sovereign nation on the equator part and parcel, root and branch, to launch their missions from, to do their business without let. They don't need our approval, they don't need any government's permission they don't already own or can get, any more than they need some scientific discovery: because if they needed such things they'd work it out before the announcement. Because other governments know this, I'm betting the launch will be from Bygongyr.

For a single billion dollars you can buy the entire US government over an election season: the presidency and every single congressman and senator - and his opponent too, ensuring that whoever wins, you've got their ear. These guys have _hundreds_ of billions of dollars. If they wanted to they could make us pay for this - but they don't, because they want to own it and they don't swing that way.

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Re: What resource?

"What about these silica ones, are they any good"

"well silicon is used in computers, and everyone wants computers right?"

"let's do it, anything we find that isn't coal or sand is just gravy"

-----------

So what you're telling me is that someone has finally discovered one of the rare gravy asteroids. All we need now is the yorkshire pudding asteroid and the beeferoid - and space exploration is more or less solved.

Oi! NASA! Get Hubble turned around to survey asteroids, rather than wasting its time on 13bn year old galaxies. Then get your arse to Mars!

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Re: What resource?

Agree. And are we even close to inventing ways of processing and manufacturing in low G ??? I think not.

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Re: What resource?

"Maybe its orbital solar power stations? given the current state of spaceflight tech thats got to be more practical than mining asteroids that are millions of kilometers away."

Space solar power stations? I seem to recall, back during the "energy crisis" days of the mid '70s, this being one of those ideas that was hyped relentlessly until it was discovered that it'd be impractical and more trouble than it was worth.

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Re: What resource?

"So what you're telling me is that someone has finally discovered one of the rare gravy asteroids. All we need now is the yorkshire pudding asteroid and the beeferoid - and space exploration is more or less solved..."

And, let's not forget the Mashed Potato asteroid, and the Chicken-Fried Steak asteroid (for those of us in the Southern USA).

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Re: The resource is water

And they've got the film rights for the first trip already locked up!

Yeah, the profits from that will pale in comparison to the long term water/mining profits, but you make your upfront money wherever you can.

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Megaphone

Good on em

Would serial-whingers and people who have achieved nothing in life, please let the entrepreneurs get on with making history.

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rav

Hmmm... they could've come up with a better name!

How about Weyland Corporation.

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Facepalm

Planetary Resources Co

They have the most important thing covered it seems.

A Facebook page....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Planetary Resources Co

And the ironic thing is, despite having Google execs onboard, they still have a Facebook page instead of Google+...

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Facepalm

Google Founders...

Reading this headline really surprised me, until I read the 2nd half of it...

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Coat

Life imitates art?

"Attention, asteroid Pandora: we're coming for your natural resources..."

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Go

There is no resource in an asteroid that can't be mined on Earth for far less. But if you want that resource to be in space, then you need to add to the Earth-mining cost the cost of getting it out of the gravity well. I don't know for sure of course, but that could get it into the ballpark of, or even higher than, the cost of asteroid mining. The only problem is that it requires a massive initial investment which won't start having returns for quite a while, but these guys do have a lot of money. And yeah, what Mikel said - water is a big one.

1) Bring ice asteroid into LEO.

2) Build giant solar panels in space.

3) Melt ice, crack water into H2 and O2.

4) Set up orbital refuel station.

5) Profit!

It's a nice business plan. After that, you can get a mineral asteroid and start building orbital stations, factories, building ships in orbit, and so on. That'd make getting to the Moon or Mars or wherever enormously cheaper, as the actual spaceship could be designed to never have to take off or land, and be built and powered with mass and fuel that never has to traverse a gravity well. Just fit with a small lander. Seriously, asteroid mining is pretty much a requirement for any space exploration that makes economical sense.

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Anonymous Coward

Google...

If the founders of Google and senior members of the company want to do something for the good of society, they could always pay fair tax and stop avoiding it like it's evil or something. Or is this just another ego project?

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Re: Google...

"If the founders of Google and senior members of the company want to do something for the good of society, they could always pay fair tax and stop avoiding it like it's evil or something. Or is this just another ego project?"

DING DING DING DING DING! We have a winner!

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Happy

Re: Google...

If you look at it in a certain way, they are, in effect, paying tax. That's an aweful lot of money to pump into the US economy (and possibly others) with the potential to create a lot more wealth. They choose to spend their "tax" on something of their choice rather than at the choice of Govt.

Yeah, it's kind of a warped view but, well....

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Coat

So when they want to find interesting new asteroids

Do they just google for them?

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Mine is the one with "Turn Left at Orion" in the pocket

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Hang on...

"...backed by Google co-founder Larry Page, Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Google board member K.Ram Shriram..."

and

"...the company has a Facebook page..."

Proof, if it were needed, that G+ is a dead duck.

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Mushroom

Eh..

No Bruce Willis?

I seen a documentary a while ago where he took a team up and mined an asteroid. So he's got the experience..

Dave

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Meh

No gravity well - but asteroids are moving targets

To exploit asteroid resources wouldn't one have to bring the asteroid into Earth orbit and/or mount the mining gear etc. on the asteroid and fire the products back at Earth?

Either of those would be technically (and energetically) challenging..... I can't see the economics squaring up on this in any practical timeframe.

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Re: No gravity well - but asteroids are moving targets

No, you can exploit asteroid resources *in space*. Low orbit satellites need fuel so they don't fall down due to atmospheric drag, and high orbit satellites need fuel to get to high orbit in the first place. So the first mining product will likely be fuel for satellites. Anything else will come later and be gravy. If nothing else, the slag after extracting fuel can become radiation shielding, which you need for anywhere above low orbit.

Even in low orbit, you need some shielding to use modern electronics, because they are sensitive to particles from the radiation belts.

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My money's on this being use of satellites to prospect for minerals and other resources on Earth.

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That's already being done now. Nothing new there.

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Look up Sudbury Basin, and you'll find that Canada has been mining a meteor/asteroid for a long time.

Assuming that metal can be refined in space, mining asteroids is more environmentally friendly. I hope it succeeds. If the private sector doesn't kick start it in the next 10 years, I think manned space-flight is dead in the water.

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Joke

They could call the company the "Jupiter Mining Corporation" ...

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Pirate

I'm rather hoping they'll call it Union Aerospace Corporation. A company with that name is bound to find interesting things in spaaace.

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Alien

In Space?

Rather on Mars, if memory serves me...

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Pirate

Re: In Space?

yeah, but you have to go through "space" to get to Mars, right? I was being rather generic, I admit - "space" meaning everything not on Earth.

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Mushroom

Nice prelude to supervillain hood

Hmm, private companies with the capability to destroy entire cities/countries by raining rocks down on them.

Possibly even on purpose!

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