Interestingly, one of the investor/advisers at Planetary Resources is James Cameron, the film director who of course made a historic dive to the deepest part of the Pacific several weeks ago. Hopefully he hedges his bet on space mining by at least mapping the ocean floor.
What relatively pure rare materials exist in the ocean depths and what is the true cost of extracting materials such as platinum on earth? As soon as the money and technology are invested in obtaining these materials from outer space, the holders of the assets here on earth will be motivated to sell from their mines at a slightly lower price. Certainly the production pipeline is much shorter here on earth. I don't think I'd risk my capital on the space mining ventures.
NASA already has the first robotic space miners. They have a very good design to build from. Personally, I think we need a first generation of under sea mining. We have three quarters of our planet completely unexplored and unexploited. Why go to space when we have untapped resources just off our shores?
Thanks for posting. I had the pleasure of spending about an hour with Homer Hickam on the Opening Day of the USA Science & Engineering Festival. I believe we could have talked all afternoon if his schedule had allowed. As it was, he was whisked off to his next interview at PBS at the end of our hour together. In my 30 years of covering technology, I do not recall meeting a more well-rounded individual with interests ranging from rocket engines to high school education to T-Rex skeletons on the plains of Montana. We're lucky to have folks like Homer Hickam.
Homer Hickam's argument is that a mining engineer sitting on Planetary Resource's advisory board could help begin the process of figuring out how to mine on an asteroid with little or no gravity. That is going to be a big problem. Based on this scenario above, it's going to be a long time before Planetary Resources actually needs to hire mining engineers. The problems of identifying and actually reaching near Earth asteroids look daunting, as does the proposition of actually moving such a large object. If we are going to mine the solar system, and I'm not convinced for the time being that we should be, why not focus on a relatively stationary target that is within the reach of current technology? Namely, the moon.
I would take Hickam's advice. I have heard in the past that the abundance of Helium-3 on the moon could put to rest fears about mankind's future energy needs. But a quick web search reveals that there appears to be some debate about its true value.
Planetary Resources doesn't have a mining engineer yet because they don't need one for about a decade. The first job, which they are pursuing with their small telescopes, is to *find* the Near Earth Asteroids. We only know about 9% of the ones larger than 100m in size. Next after that will be some close up missions to the promising candidates, which will take several more years.
Once you have some detailed information on your likely mining locations, *then* hire a mining engineer or ten to help design the equipment. A precursor mission might be to haul back a very small asteroid (~500 tons) and try out various mining methods on it, before attempting to visit a larger (100m diamter, 1 million tons) one and do serious excavation on it.