November 21, 2013

Here’s Why Asteroid Mining will Fuel Human Expansion into the Cosmos

At Planetary Resources, our mission is to prospect and mine asteroids to address one of the paramount problems faced on Earth and beyond: resource scarcity.  We are laser focused on developing the tools to grow the economy beyond Earth: radiation tolerant embedded systems, deep space communications and remote sensing capabilities, autonomous navigation, and integrated propulsion on the smallest, most cost-effective platforms possible.  With our first launch scheduled for next year, our work towards asteroid mining is in-progress.

But one of the barriers we face has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with our perception of space travel.

We – all of us – have been duped over the past half-century into thinking that space exploration is harder than it really is.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not exactly easy, but the space environment is not inherently hard, it’s just…different.  After all, many Earth-imposed challenges that keep engineers up at night are totally absent in space.  No atmosphere to oxidize, nor salts to corrode, nor biology to decay.  No fragile environment to safeguard, no hurricanes or Earthquakes or other natural disasters to protect against.  No gravity or friction to oppose transportation, dissipate energy and generate waste heat.  Just abundant around-the-clock solar energy, an infinite cold sink, and a pure vacuum: the perfect thermodynamic environment.

It is getting to the doorstep of outer space that is nearly impossible.  And it is this inaccessibly from Earth that raises the bar on engineering challenge and economic viability.  The massive controlled explosions (also known as rockets) used to push every ounce of cargo through our atmosphere into orbit leaves a biased impression that all other solutions to developing a thriving space ecosystem must be equally hard.

But all of the transportation needs in space –— from orbit raises to station keeping to Lunar landings or even expeditions to the outer planets –—  are near infinitely more achievable when access is fueled by the resources present in near-infinite quantities on asteroids.  In short, harnessing the resources of space for utilization in space is a far less daunting challenge than we are prone to believe.

To help visualize why asteroids play such a vital role and where Planetary Resources comes in, we produced an educational short for you.  Let us know what you think in the comments below!