The new company Planetary Resources plans to mine asteroids for precious minerals and water to "increase humanity’s prosperity, and help establish and maintain human presence in space." As the newest private company to tackle the space industry, Planetary Resources has already accumulated the usual pack of skeptics, including scientists that claim that the costs are just too high. According to a recent Forbes article however, the innovative company is already bringing in the dough.
Unsurprisingly, the company has an all-star team of billionaire investors including Ross Perot Jr., Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and filmmaker James Cameron. Very surprisingly, the company has already managed to implement a plan to make a profit in spite of its mountain of start-up capital. According to Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president and chief engineer, “one of the first things we did was to identify the road map that would get us from now until we got to the asteroids. We already have contracts with NASA, some private companies, and even a few private individuals.”
These contracts are the source of Planetary Resources current income, but their plan doesn’t stop there. In short, they plan to develop an underlying infrastructure of technologies that will some day assist them in mining asteroids, but in the meantime can be used to provide other profitable services or can be sold outright.
The first of these technologies will be the Arkyd 100 series which consists of spacecraft with telescopes and remote sensing technology designed to be put into low orbit. Eventually, they can be used to identify asteroids, but until then, they can be used to observe the Earth and collect data to be sold to universities, the government, and businesses.
The next phase, Arkyd 200 series, will be similar, but put into a higher orbit and have a propulsion system for maneuvering. The higher orbit will increase its ability to track asteroids, but until then, it can used to provide deep space communications networking. The current network is 50-years-old and is based on the surface of the Earth. The Arkynd 200 series can provide a much needed upgrade to the network and is another potential source of revenue for Planetary Resources.
The final phase, Arkynd 300 series, will consist of swarms of Arkynd working together. When multiple Arkynds collect information on a single asteroid, reliability increases, which greatly reduces costs. Exactly how the resources will be collected from the asteroids is still unclear, but Lewicki isn’t concerned.
“We’re confident that we can work out the specifics, and recognize that there’s already a lot of research in this area. Our focus as a company is to develop low-cost solutions for the spacecraft we’ll need to determine how best to mine asteroids. While we’re doing that, we’re also focused on building a sustainable business.”
Planetary Resources is well on its way to proving that the high costs of space exploration and development are not an insurmountable barrier to private development. Its plan to run sustainably until it has developed the technology to carry out its ultimate goal, and to make that development profitable, is far more intricate than the tax-reliant strategy of NASA and other government counterparts.
Some claim that without government involvement, man wouldn’t have made it to the moon. I disagree. The private sector is capable of getting us there too, and will turn a profit while doing it.