Today, Planetary Resources announced it will be launching a project that seeks to send swarms of robots to mine asteroids for valuable natural resources. Focusing initially on water-rich asteroids, the prospecting explorers say if successful, their missions will enable more complex, large-scale exploration of the Solar System, including advanced planetary colonization.
In space, access to water and other life-supporting volatiles available on asteroids can provide necessities of life including hydration, breathable air, radiation shielding, and even manufacturing capabilities.
Incorporating recent modern innovations in commercial microelectronics, medical devices, and information technology in ways not traditionally used by robotic spacecraft, Planetary Resources says they will create robotic explorers that cost an order of magnitude less than current systems, using a swarm of relatively simple worker 'bots instead of one expensive space vehicle.
Using the best practices of commercial aerospace innovation, operational adaptability, and rapid manufacturing, they say these robotic explorers will be cheap and redundant, allowing they team to take greater risks without jeopardizing the entire mission.
Leo the space telescope
Leo is the space telescope that Planetary Resources will use as a stepping-stone to near-Earth asteroids. The low Earth orbit telescope, the Arkyd 100 series is Planetary Resources' scout vehicle.
Scheduled to be put into low-Earth orbit by the end of next year the craft will use optical spectroscopy to determine asteroid composition and assess whether it is a potential target for asteroid prospecting.
Critical to the success of their program, Planetary Resources says, is the development of tools including collaborative exploration, deep space optical communications, and efficient micro-propulsion.
Made in space
The value of natural resources in a single asteroid can be hundreds of millions of dollars, executives from Planetary Resources said. The company estimates that extracting 20 percent of the hydrogen and oxygen from a single carbonaceous chondrite asteroid about 50 meters across is enough propellant for all of the Space Shuttle flights.
Hydrogen and oxygen will be harvested from the asteroid, and manufactured into rocket fuel that is made in space for use in space, thereby enabling further large-scale exploration of the Solar System, and even planetary bases and outposts.
Swarms of mining 'bots
Targeting a date in the future at least 10 years away, Planetary Resources says swarms of about five or ten craft will target and extract the resources from asteroids flying by.