Last week, a group of billionaires unveiled plans to mine near-Earth asteroids for water and minerals. Planetary Resources, Inc. was founded by Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, and Eric Anderson, co-founder of space tourism company Space Adventures, with investors including director James Cameron, and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Google. On April 24, at a press conference in Seattle, USA, Planetary Resources said it aims to dig up metals such as ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and platinum from asteroids; and also water, which it will then sell as spacecraft fuel.
Initially, Planetary Resources plans to throw the first privately-owned space telescope into Low Earth Orbit, which they will use to spot likely targets for mining. By adding propulsion to a space telescope, they will then be able to send it on an intercept mission. They also plan to hunt asteroids further afield.
All this will be familiar if you’ve read Iain Cairn’s story, ‘Conquistadors’, in Rocket Science. That too deals with a private company – in Iain’s story, a Mexican mining corporation – which sends a mission to mine a near-Earth asteroid.
The only question is: which story in Rocket Science will be the next one to turn from science fiction into science fact?