Space firm about to make a big announcement. I take a stab at what it is.

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 18 2012 3:26 PM

Space firm about to make a big announcement. I take a stab at what it is.

I'm overwhelmed with work right now prepping for a half dozen different things, but I had to make some comment on a press release I just got in the mail.

Here's the important bit [emphasis mine]:

Join visionary Peter H. Diamandis, M.D.; leading commercial space entrepreneur Eric Anderson; former NASA Mars mission manager Chris Lewicki; and planetary scientist & veteran NASA astronaut Tom Jones, Ph.D. on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT in Seattle, or via webcast, as they unveil a new space venture with a mission to help ensure humanity's prosperity.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Supported by an impressive investor and advisor group, including Google’s Larry Page & Eric Schmidt, Ph.D.; film maker & explorer James Cameron; Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Charles Simonyi, Ph.D.; Founder of Sherpalo and Google Board of Directors founding member K. Ram Shriram; and Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group Ross Perot, Jr., the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources'. Well now, what could that mean? What natural resources are there in space? Solar energy might count, but I have a strong suspicion what they're really talking about is asteroid mining.

Yes, you heard me. Let me be VERY clear: I'm speculating here. I have no more info on this than what I've quoted there, but it fits what the release says. Peter Diamandis is a big thinker, to put it mildly. His Wikipedia page should give you a taste of that. Asteroid mining is big enough for him to be interested in it! And heck, he said as much in his TED talk.

The engineering behind it would be fearsome. We're a ways out from being able to do this, but if we had a big rocket -- say SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (though I don't see any SpaceX folks listed in the release) -- then getting an operation to a near-Earth asteroid is feasible. Even a rocky asteroid would have metals in it, and we can pick in advance one that has a higher abundance of metals. And like I said in my TED talk, we can move asteroids around if we're patient.

If I were being optimistic, I might say something like this could get off the ground in 20 years or so, depending on several variables, and maybe sooner. Let me be frank: I don't think this is a crazy idea.

This'll take a lot of money... but he seems to have some fairly wealthy people -- billionaires, and more than one -- affiliated with this. So whatever idea he's got, he's being backed very seriously for it.

I have lots of other thoughts on this, but I think I'll hold them back for now due to lack of info. The press release says the group is planning on making the announcement on Tuesday, April 24 at 10:30 a.m. PDT. It'll be webcast, and I'll post more info when I get it.

[UPDATE: Heh. MIT's Technology Review came to the same conclusion.]

Image credit: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team. MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

 

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