The company has investors like Google and filmmaker James Cameron

A new company that is backed by the likes of Google and filmmaker James Cameron announced today that it plans to mine asteroids orbiting near Earth for precious gold, platinum and rare metals/minerals.

Planetary Resources, a company that plans to expand Earth's resource base, was founded earlier this year by Peter H. Diamandis, who also founded the X PRIZE Foundation for breakthroughs that benefit humanity, and Eric C. Anderson, who also co-founded commercial spaceflight company Space Adventures.

Washington-based Planetary Resources has a long-term goal of mining rare minerals from asteroids orbiting Earth, but one simply cannot jump to such a lofty goal. The company has a plan for getting to that point, however.

The first step is to develop a low-cost robotic spacecraft for surveying missions. In fact, it wants to cut the cost of deep-space robotic probes to one-tenth to one-hundredth of the cost of current probes. The company plans to do this by adding certain technology like optical laser communications to the probes, which will eliminate large radio antennas.

Planetary Resources plans to launch its first probe within two years, where NASA and other national agencies are expected to be among the first commercial customers.

Within 10 years, the company will slowly delve into space mining of various sorts. In addition to searching for rare metals, Planetary Resources hopes to extract water from asteroids in order to produce hydrogen fuel for future space missions.

According to Diamandis, a 98-foot long asteroid could potentially hold as much as $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum.

"If you look back historically at what has caused humanity to make its largest investments in exploration and in transportation, it has been going after resources, whether it's the Europeans going after the spice routes or the American settlers looking toward the west for gold, oil, timber or land," said Diamandis.

"Those precious resources caused people to make huge investments in ships and railroads and pipelines. Looking to space, everything we hold of value on Earth - metals, minerals, energy, real estate, water - is in near-infinite quantities in space. The opportunity exists to create a company whose mission is to be able to go and basically identify and access some of those resources and ultimately figure out how to make them available where they are needed."

Planetary Resources has not yet released the amount of money poured into the mining venture at this point, but large names like filmmaker James Cameron, former Microsoft chief software architect Charles Simonyi, and Google co-founders Larry Page and Eric Schmidt are among those investing in the project.

Source: Reuters

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