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Google’s Page and Schmidt backing asteroid mining startup

Wired is reporting that a group of intrepid billionaires will soon announce their new venture called Planetary Resources, Inc, “which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth.”

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Nope, this is not a movie, this is actually happening.

“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” Eric Anderson who founded the commercial space tourism company Space Adventures, told Wired. Anderson is co-founder of Planetory Resources along with Peter Diamandis, who started the X Prize foundation, which offers prizes for advancing tech. Check out Diamandis’s TED talk about space exploration.

The startup is on a “mission to help ensure humanity’s prosperity” and is backed by big names including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, filmmaker James Cameron, former Microsoft Chief Software Architect, Charles Simonyi, Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram and Ross Perot, Jr of Perot Systems. Former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki and planetary scientist & veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones, Ph.D are also onboard.

According to Wired’s article, Planetary Resources will search out “platinum-group metals” that are “highly valuable commodities used in medical devices, renewable energy products, catalytic converters, and potentially in automotive fuel cells.”

Venturebeat points out that a relatively small asteroid might be worth around US$20 trillion in the platinum market place and with platinum now worth about US$23,000 a pound, Planetary Resources could mine around US$6 billion worth of platinum metals from a typical 130 ton half-mile wide asteroid. An estimated 9,000 asteroids larger than 46 meters in diameter orbit near the Earth and some could contain as much platinum as is mined in an entire year on Earth.

In the next two years, Planetary Resources plan to scan the night skies with two to five space-based telescopes costing a few million dollars each. Within five to seven years, the company will send out drones to take a closer look at asteroids that have potential for mining. These missions are estimated to cost around US$25 and US$30 million.

How will the ore be delivered to earth? Will this project trigger space wars centered around interstellar bullion? These and many other questions remain unanswered but the ambitious project could potentially add trillions of dollars to the global GDP, usher in a new industry and re-define our definition of “natural resources”.

More details will be revealed later today at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. If space mining piques your interest, there will be a live stream of the event at 10:30 AM PDT, today, 24 April.

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