What's the Latest Development?
NASA has awarded funding to a team of researchers on a mission to determine if mining asteroids for precious metals, and perhaps water, is economically sound. The study was motivated by the introduction of Planetary Resources, a new business proposed by Peter Diamandis, the American engineer who founded the X Prize Foundation. Researchers will ask: "What kinds of mission and spacecraft design are necessary? Is the right kind of mining technology available? And most importantly, is there even a viable business model for doing it in the first place?"
What's the Big Idea?
Given the overhead costs, an asteroid mining business is clearly not viable at the moment. Such a project would presume a telescope in Venus' orbit to scout for near-Earth asteroids (containing substantial mineral resources) and regular commercial access to a service base located in a Lagrange point from which to launch the missions. "The assumptions lead to a spacecraft design, possibly using a solar-thermal propulsion system, that launches to a NEO from the Lagrange point station, mines and processes the material at the asteroid and then returns it to the Lagrange point for shipment back to Earth."
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