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Planetary Resources to mine asteroids with robots

Planetary Resources, the new company for mining asteroids, has outlined its plans to pinch materials from space.

Planetary Resources, the brand-new company that wants to create an industry out of purloining metals from asteroids, has outlined its plans to use robots to evaluate potentially valauble space rocks.

Backed by ambitious bigwigs including James Cameron, Google execs and space flight entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, Planetary Resources went official yesterday. Its website states, "Asteroids are filled with precious resources, everything from water to platinum".

The space-addled site continues: "Harnessing valuable minerals from a practically infinite source will provide stability on Earth, increase humanity's prosperity, and help establish and maintain human presence in space."

Blimey. Makes sorting my CD collection feel like a rather insignificant achievement.

So how exactly do we go about the tricky business of mining precious space rocks? Planetary Resources plans to create teams of cheap robotic explorers to examine asteroids, then "process their resources during subsequent campaigns".

A twinkly promotional video shown alongside the company's announcement outlines a three-step plan for mining asteroids (embedded below -- skip to 6m 35s).

First, nearby asteroids will be identified, then the company plans to, "develop the technology and the capability to transform those resources into valuable materials". There's not much detail given on how this would happen, but the video shows a rock being snared in what looks like a big space net.

Once ensnared, materials are to be transported to the "point of need", which may not be Earth. Planetary Resources says it could be a fuel depot in space, and also states that the first mining forays will focus on asteroids that contain water.

"Using the resources of space -- to explore space -- will enable the large-scale exploration of the Solar System," it states.

The Telegraph reports that the company hopes to launch its first probe within two years. But will it be possible to create space gadgets cheap enough to make asteroid mining worthwhile? Could this all be part of an enormous viral marketing campaign for the new Prometheus movie? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook wall.

Image credit: Planetary Resources