It's been so long since the future felt like it would match up to the optimistic sci-fi of a few decades ago, that I'd nearly forgotten. I know this is just one announcement of an intention, but I don't care, I'm going to go ahead and start dreaming again about seeing space elevators and terraformed moons and planets in my lifetime.
Great story to read before bed.
It's activities like these that inspire the Human race as a whole. I don't even care if it's successful. Just to attempt such a grand idea is a great achievement.
It's wonderful to see people spending huge amounts of money to expand the reach of humanity instead of our capacity for narcissism. Startups like these give me hope for the future.
I hope they're careful. :-)
Back during the Space Race, the idea that the Russians could put something into orbit wasn't just a wound to the national pride, it was a technical demonstration of the fact that they could build ICBM's. If you have the rocket power necessary to lift something into orbit, you have the rocket power necessary to put a warhead on a ballistic trajectory to any point on the earth's surface. So if you can go into space and redirect asteroids, you can obviously launch an ICBM. And at this juncture, it's probably easier to develop the technology for nuclear weapons than the technology to capture asteroids and bombard the earth with them. The only way you could do more damage more cost-effectively with asteroids is if you had an extinction-level asteroid, but there's obviously no strategic value to that.
Bear in mind, I'm only talking about how scary it is, which isn't quite the same as discussing how militarily effective it is. By which I mean--obviously orbital bombardment can be worthwhile, but it would cause no more damage than nuclear weapons, and any magnitude of orbital bombardment that wouldn't trigger a MAD reaction would have to cause strictly less damage.
However, it's easier to claim that a mining asteroid crashing into your enemy was an act of sabotage/accident/non-national terrorism than a rain of nukes with your signature on them.
Only if you don't intend to occupy that land in the next 500 years, though. I'd imagine a tungsten telephone pole dropped from orbit has better deep-ground penetration than a nuke, too.
The dangers of a large nuclear exchange are widespread climate change and economic disruptions brought about by entire supply chains being removed. Not 'wastelands' of bombed out cities too radioactive to visit.
I've spent my life listening to people talk about scary scenarios of uninhabitable wastelands full of radioactive waste.
I don't know if the misunderstanding comes from intentional propaganda from the anti-nuclear folk, or a misunderstanding of what 'half life' means.
Either way, I routinely used to ask people : if nuclear bombs make a place uninhabitable, how come Mazdas are still made in Hiroshima?
Don't forget the Redstone and Atlas rockets that carried the Mercury capsules were (not very) modified ICBMs.
Gotta feel bad for the guys who provided the "inadequate capital" to the earlier companies that never had the "technical savvy" to make it happen.
I see the imaginations of the hackers here burning, and it excites me. I only wonder if the human species as a whole isn't too cynical to try risky space ventures again.
How is this possible?
A couple founders raising money and taking pre-orders can be cash flow positive. Then they will build out the team, it likely will be cashflow negative for a while (or else they wouldn't have raised money), and then hopefully it will be cashflow positive again.
A company that gets a $1m loan then spends $100k would be "cash flow positive".
It says that Diamandis (the founder of Planetary Resources) may have been joking when he made these plans to buy options.
> There are very limited laws against "insider trading" in the commodities markets, if, for no other reason, than that the concept of an "insider" is not immediately analogous to commodities themselves (e.g., corn, wheat, steel, etc.). However, analogous activities such as front running are illegal under U.S. commodity and futures trading laws. For example, a commodity broker can be charged with fraud if he or she receives a large purchase order from a client (one likely to affect the price of that commodity) and then purchases that commodity before executing the client's order in order to benefit from the anticipated price increase.
One of my favourite aspects of capitalism is that it can provide individuals with an incentive to achieve goals that benefit the species as a whole. Sure, the backers will get richer, and they will get loads of personal press out of it. But we will finally be expanding our resource gathering to the near solar system. That is worth feeding someone's ego IMO!
When it finally happens, I'll say it was about time.
I have long argued that the cuts to NASA are short-sighted and a net loss for humanity; perhaps it's time to re-evaluate that notion. They may well have been short-sighted, but the hole left by the fading government monopoly is opening up some incredibly interesting opportunities.
If governments get a clue of how valuable space real estate, energy and resources can be. Expect a space race, like weapons race.
In fact you can expect wars on the basis of who controls which asteroids and who gets to stay where on mars.
Given the ever growing need for money I can bet a tax would be put in place to where it might not even be profitable after all the regulation and such got put into position.
Think about it. They can lay levies for everything from managing the movement of objects in space to the environmental damage and insurance against such for returning materials gained in space. Then comes the whole "it belongs to all and none" type spiel that will surely follow.
It really is a powerful feeling to know the push to space is back on.
Seriously. Space mining and pressure from environmentalism is going to turn this whole field into rivers of gold ... in the sky.
If I had a few billion dollars I'd (like to think I'd) happily plonk my cash into space mining. Even if I was unlikely to see a return before I died.
I was under the impression (from previous articles) that the raw minerals from the asteroids were worth tens or hundreds of thousands $$, while the process of bringing them to Earth would be orders of magnitude higher (millions or billions). Wouldn't it be more economical to use the materials for space ventures/stations/etc? Or are the asteroids composed of some high value materials that can be hugely profitable?
Edit: this is not to say that the venture isn't utterly amazing - but there does seem to be quite a bit of focus on profit, and that confuses me.
Economic growth in China and India has caused a huge increase the the price of many commodities, and economists have been projecting gloom and doom because he future looks to be resource-constrained.
But they weren't taking into account the one million asteroids in the solar system, many of which contain billions of tons of resources each.
This can really reshape fundamental assumptions about the future. Of course, it will happen slowly over the course of decades, and by the time we see results we'll all feel jaded about it.
But tonight I feel positively thrilled.
"A single platinum-rich space rock 1,650 feet (500 meters) wide contains the equivalent of all the platinum-group metals ever mined throughout human history, company officials said."
Quick Wikipedia/Google math:
1 cubic foot of Platinum = 1330 pounds 
Total platinum mined ever = ~25 cubic feet  * 1330 lbs = 33250 lbs = 532,000 oz
Current price of platinum = $1,560/oz 
Total value of platinum in an asteroid = $829M
And that's just the one metal, which is not the only thing they're mining. Throw the water in there for the space station(s) and it's not impossible to assume that one asteroid can gross well over $1bn -- we're not talking $trillions yet, but I bet they've modeled this out to make it a profitable venture...
 - http://www.gold-eagle.com/analysis/platinum.html
 - http://www.kitco.com/market/
(of course this doesn't account for the fact that if you suddenly double the worldwide supply of platinum overnight, the price likely won't stay at $1560/oz....but still...)
23*1330lb = 13,875kg ever
130tons = 117,934kg per year
"basement of less than 25 cubic feet" Maybe them meant basement of 25 square feet or 250cuft which is still tiny basement.
According to , 614,631 kg were mined in South Africa (which accounts for about 80% of world production) between 2002 and 2009.
Density of platinum = 21.45g/cm^3 = 21.45 * 10^6 g/m^3 = 21.45 * 10^3 kg/m^3
=> total volume mined 2002 - 2009 = 614631 / 21450 = 28.65 m^3 approx.
So that's about 28.65 * 35.29 = 1011 cubic feet, JUST in South Africa and JUST between those years.
Other estimates visualise the total ever mined as a cube of 20 feet per SIDE (), which sounds a bit more like it, given the numbers above - but still feels a little bit low.
So, for $1BN you could have: Instagram, SpaceX, or small asteroid. Ha!
Also they are talking of water, that means resources for the next permanent space stations. Building oxygen gardens in space and space colonies. Stuff and resources that require maintaining large space colonies.
Considering projects of such big ambitions, the investments and associated risks we are taking is chicken feed.
Bringing it all the way back to the surface is not worth the energy required.
Questions for those in the know:
1. Is there any legal precedent on whether or not they're even allowed to mine the asteroids? From what I understand the Moon can't be exploited by any one country or corporation. Does any similar law apply to asteroids?
2. How are they going to get the platinum back to Earth? Re-entry strikes me as needing a really effing big parachutes for the hauls they're going to be bringing back.
2. Drop it in small bundles (a few tons?) over the ocean with a flotation device and a large reusable parachute. Preferable avoiding areas with significant pirate populations.
Now that would be cool.
The seas and oceans were explored by merchants. Entities like British East India trading company.
The space might be explored by business men too!
Ironic, but true.
Isn't it more rational to collaborate, when there is almost infinite potential profit and huge risk?
People in the middle ages got equally excited when somebody invented a ship that could sail the seas and a compass that could point where they wanted to go. And then when they actually went there, they found some surprises. They figured that they are not the only ones to exist.
Space exploration will be similar. We have gone from a boat to sail in a small lake, to making ships that can sail and mine resources for surviving a prolonged exploration campaign.
The only thing that can throw spanner in the wheels now is this things going down and projects like these getting dropped. We are on the right track and give the direct and a little more speed. Privatization in this domain is the way forward.I think permanent space colonies very much look to be practical realities in some decades to come.
Wow, they are not wasting time. Last week, the idea of an asteroid mining company was still in the realm of science fiction. Today, an asteroid mining company announces that they are launching a survey telescope within two years. It feels like we are entering a new era of technological progress. It makes me wonder what other surprising announcements are coming over the next few years in other fields.
The same for several other successful interplanetary probes - build a (relatively) cheap fleet of clones of successful designs, and send them out to explore the solar system fully.
Heck, you don't even have to come up with all the money yourself. Sell advertising on the mission. Having a logo on the rocket, and logos on the returned pix, etc., are all fantastic opportunities for advertising.
The Keck telescopes are named after the W.M. Keck foundation, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is named after the Alfred P. Sloan foundation, for example.
Space based observatories are still an enormously expensive (billion dollar) endeavor and are generally quite risky.
Also, the Mars landers cost $250M, well within the budget of a billionare investor.
That sort of thing will happen, but it'll probably take until after launch costs have dropped a fair bit.
I'm not sure which Mars landers you're referring to, I'm not aware of any that were so cheap. The Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover) cost $2.5 billion. The total cost of the MER rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) was $820 million. The Mars Phoenix mission cost $420 million. The Mars Pathfinder mission cost $280 million in 1996 dollars, or $380 million adjusted for inflation. There have been no other successful Mars landers within the last 2 decades.
As launch costs go down, the cost of experimentation is going to go down, leading to faster turnaround and less on-the-ground testing. Rapid iteration will eventually be the norm.
However, more than likely there will need to be new designs purpose built: The manufacture of new telescopes and probes from old designs is not really practical. These craft were mostly "one offs"; their supply chains, tooling, and work groups are not waiting and ready to go. Their optical, structural, guidance, and computational technology is no longer state of the art, so you'd have to kludge together new systems based on old design docs and specifications. Not the kind of efficiency a privately funded venture would aspire to.
Far better to start anew, using the cumulative data of previous missions as a stepping stone, and employing lean design-build techniques such as SpaceX, Scaled Composites, and others have done.
I'm aware of one new generation of lean-manufactured, government-contracted observational satellites that are designed to be cheaper and replicable, but they're tactical in mission: they point towards targets on earth.
Even with the James Webb telescope discovering habitable planets, we're centuries away from doing anything particularly useful at scale.
We need to focus on the the inner-solar system, the asteroid belt and a few outer moons. There are trillions of dollars in immediately-useful research to be done locally. None of which needs a deep space telescope to succeed.
- Peter H. Diamandis (Founder of the X PRIZE)
- Eric Anderson (Founder of Space Adventures,
Rounding out the entire list of backers:
- Larry Page (goog)
- Eric Schmidt (goog)
- James Cameron (goog)
- Charles Simonyi (Billionaire via MSFT, oversaw creation of office)
- K. Ram Shriram (Billionaire via goog)
- Ross Perot, Jr (Perot's son)
I don't think Cameron is involved in Google, is he?
As a scientist, I am so thrilled about this idea.
Billionaires who got there by, say, making giant bets with the downside backed by the public purse, tend to be absent from these sorts of ventures.
(My suspicion is that I'm happy with wealth concentrated into the hands of people who agree with me.)
There is an underlying theme here, that tech/valley-generated wealth is causing a level of change we are only barely beginning to comprehend as the $ are pooled and focused. Now that is exciting. And that will create a brave new world.
A century from now, those who had the vision, and the willingness to risk so much for something that would benefit all of mankind so much, will be even more fabulously wealthy (if it goes as planned). Yet the masses will be shouting that it's unfair that those few should have such unimaginable wealth, just because they made a lucky bet a few years back.
I picture "Occupy Cape Canaveral" protesters pillorying those who took the risks and made the future possible -- all while those same protesters are wearing platinum jewelry and using electronics that the iridium, rubidium, etc., made possible.
Prior to now, I didn't even realize it was conceivably feasible to do asteroid mining... but if it is, why doesn't someone start a massive open source track? A classic space race, though it would between a private company, and a non government public effort. I'll contribute money and time :D
*And I want it so much.
Close my eyes, I can taste the Mars dust in the air.
In the darkness the space stations shimmer in orbits that I will not share.
But I'll teach the student
Who'll manage the fact'ry
That tempers the steel that makes colonies strong.
And I'll write the program that runs the computer
That charts out the stars where our rockets belong.
It will never get easy to wake from my dream
When the future I dream of is so far away.
But I am willing to sacrifice
something I don't have For something I won't have
but somebody will someday.*
"Google execs have backed an asteroid mining venture. In other news, James Cameron has been unveiled."
Then, after that horrendous attempt at comprehension, it came up with this, which was only slightly better:
"James Cameron has unveiled an asteroid mining venture that is backed by Google execs."
My guess is that it puts the information in the title in order from the most eye-grabbing to the least. (The more readable "Google Execs and James Cameron unveil Asteroid Mining Venture" puts the holy shit part of the title at the end.)
If any of them are reading, or anyone here knows them, I would do anything to get involved in this effort; the development and exploration of space is the most important mission in human history, and I'd love to put to work my business expertise, youthful energy, and eagerness to contribute... I'm well credentialed but more importantly extremely passionate!
Have you applied for a job at SpaceX, yet? That's one way to get involved with modern space faring.
a) SpaceX appears more specifically to be looking for rocket engineers, etc, a background I do not have. (Good business / analytics / etc, but, a rocket engineer I am not). This problem likely applies to Planetary Resources as well. However...
b) Planetary Resources is more directly aligned with the mission I find most important - SpaceX is doing great things, and Elon Musk is super cool for insisting on his goal of making humans a multi-planetary species, but that's still a ways out. I don't know that I'd have as much ability to contribute. It's for this reason I've been trying to gain skills that would be of greater value down the line (business ones, in particular) in order to do what's necessary to help run and grow a commercial space venture.
c) I actually asked Elon Musk something on the subject - 'What advice do you have for people interested in getting involved early in these kinds of capital-intensive but world-changing businesses' and his answer was that, of course, it's helpful to have a few $100MMs from something like an internet company first :)
If the price of $mineral goes down below a certain level, demand has to go up for continued asteroid mining to be viable. What future activities (apart from the obvious, like catalytic converters) might provide this demand?
1) Not that anyone directly mines for just platinum it tends to be a byproduct of the refining process for things like nickel, copper or gold. Even 'platinum' mines end up producing platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium rather than just platinum. Still, it significantly influence the profitability of such mining operations to the point where if the price drops many mines will slow down production.
Generally speaking as the price for a commodity drops the market for that commodity increases more than the price drop.
I know almost nothing about economics. Is there a general mechanism that explains this?
Also, economy's are complex enough that there are a wide range of cost/benefit trade-offs going on. Electrically silver is a better conductor than copper which is better than Aluminum. While silver costs to much to be used for most wiring copper and aluminum tend to trade off based on weight strength issues. So, high tension power wires tend to use aluminum due to it's physical property's outweighing electrical issues after costs are taken into consideration.
Again this is just the size of the market in nominal value. AKA if the price drops to 1/2 and you sell 2.1 times as much the total market increased even if everyone's margins where squeezed.
It seems likely that the end result of a massive influx of rare materials would simply make 'never' happen a whole lot sooner. While the price would obviously fall (likely by quite a significant amount, that's kinda the point), I doubt it would fall to the point of being 'worthless.'
Don't get me wrong, I would love to have my own asteroid mining company. Just need a couple billion dollars first. But what happens once there are two or more competing corporations? Who has the power to say which part of space belongs to whom? Will there be space battles?
Corporations operating in space are still subject to the laws of whatever national flag they're flying under, so I presume that the court system can come to some decision if more than one company wants to grab the same hunk of rock and metal. It'll probably be based on who launches their mission first, or something like that.
However, if you read the article (either the parent or the NYTimes one) you will see that there is some thought about bringing an asteroid to one of the Lagrange points or into a Lunar orbit (something that would make the chance of it getting away and hitting Earth unlikely). In that scenario one could imagine living in one of those inflatable habitats where you worked while you operated your remote mining pick.
Getting to and from that point would probably involve a 'loan' from the mining company, which you could pay off by mining the asteroid. Of course while you lived up there you would need things like food and stuff but you could get that at the company store. And rather than actually charge you for it they will just put it on your tab. You know, you load 16 tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. :-)
As part of one of the lunar exploration projects I was looking at various ideas for processing lunar regolith into something more useful than just dirt. Water is pretty straight forward, basically it sublimates off stuff in a vacuum and you collect it and store it. Platinum is a different story, some sort of chemical/catalyzing process is required that does not require re-charging the chemical packs either at all or very often.
One of the places I like to camp is Plumas-Eureka State Park  which is the site of an old gold mine. The stamping mill is kind of still there. One of the things the blacksmith docent talked about was that there was a competitive advantage at a mine to having a creative blacksmith, since they could build tools well suited to the kinds of rock and conditions rather than relying on 'off the shelf' sort of designs.
It's hard to be satirical about the future when all this stuff keeps coming true. ;)
1. Assemble several dozen (hundred?) of the non-platinum-bearing asteroids with your robots and aim them on a slingshot-accelerated path towards Earth.
2. Threaten the entire world (or at least rich countries) with massive kinetic orbital bombardment.
3. ... profit!
Brought to you by the guy who coined "Nuke them from orbit - it's the only way to be sure."
I know tonnes of crap from space falls to Earth each day or year, whatever the number is, but mining may bring more material back possibly denser metals rather than just rock dust and in a shorter period of time.
Interesting to ponder.
Interestingly, Ceres alone is 1/3 of the total mass, and the big four make up half.
So I wonder where this puts us on the hockey stick curve of space exploration? Are we at the point of the spinning jenny or more towards the cotton gin in humanity's space timeline? Probably doesn't matter if you are sufficiently far enough into the future and have to squint backwards.
1. extract raw materials
2. apply labor + capital + innovation + time
3. sell final product for more than cost of inputs
This announcement takes #1 literally out of this world. Still dirty perhaps, but beautiful.
Maybe something to do with the serenity of the void.
But probably more related to this being a step forward? A sense of progression? Could come from growing up reading and imagining anything to do with space exploration.
How many people on HN want to grab their colleagues right now, shake them, and yell "Why aren't you currently amazed? We're going to be mining IN FRICKIN' SPACE within our lifetimes?"
I'll settle for a strange, quiet sense of elation.
Cool stuff anyway.
If you want to ship energy to Earth surface you want solar again. Generate electricity from panels, convert to microwave, beam to receivers on Earth, convert back to electricity, problem solved. And no, the beam density would not high enough to cook anyone.
Google "space based solar power" for more.
I'm not in America. Does anyone know where I can see this live online?
10:30 AM PDT.
Blast off on an ego trip.
Can this really be the end?
Back to work you go again.
The one who'd really be chortling, though, would be Heinlein, who was (almost) always a terrific proponent of privatized (almost) everything, especially space exploration.
1) Biological issues (space viruses etc.)
2) Accidents (opps the orbit changed it's heading for Chicago)
3) More AI for robots, Skynet finally has a good resource base
4) "Today in the news global markets failed as PRI announced capturing a 1 billion metric ton astroid with 80% gold and platinum content"
I am actually super excited just thought it was interesting to think about the counter issues.
#2 The asteroid they are returning will weigh less than the ISS and be parked further away. Tackling the control/direction of asteroids is something we want to learn anyway.
#3 We are a long way from strong AI. If strong AI is created, asteroid mining would be the smallest footnote in its capabilities.
#4 There are abundant industrial uses for PGMs so there is a high floor price and continuing demand. Markets have established systems for dealing with periodic resource delivery (futures).
1) Any theoretical space viruses can already get to Earth just fine. We're pretty sure they don't exist though.
2) Yup, a real concern. I'm glad they're starting with a reasonably sized asteroid.
3) An AI rebellion probably won't look like what Hollywood says it will.
4) Awesome! There are so many cool things that you can do with gold and platinum that we don't because they're so damn expensive.
Seriously, the chances of this being just a PR stunt are practically nil. If they did want to get some individual PR, there would be cheaper ways to do it - e.g. buying a popular TV network and broadcasting PageNews 24/7, while paying people to watch it.
Assume it takes 50 billion to get to the point where you can mine your first asteroid, how much of what resource is in that asteroid that they can resell to terrestrial earth dwellers who need it for profit?
Or does this not matter at this point?
Further, what will the harvested resources be used to build? Military hardware? If so then I am very unimpressed with what this would mean to our civilization.
While I think it is "cool" - there are so freaking many problems with humans on earth that I feel we largely ignore our core issues and focus on shiny objects.
Every government on the planet is broken, we a a slave species to debt and we kill, exploit and oppress ourselves.
Now, what would be interesting if the took these resources to build a huge floating city-state in the middle of the ocean (or orbit) however, this would just be future-feudalism as it would be living in the corporation.
EDIT: I love how people on HN downvote without any comment. My point is completely valid, it is also my opinion - you don't need to agree, but it would be nice if you attempted to address my question regarding the economics of this effort.