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News From The Future-22
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A $20 Trillion Rock Could Turn a Startup Into Earth’s Richest Company

Meet Amun 3554. Doesn’t look like much, right? Little more than a mile wide, it’s one of the smallest M-class (metal-bearing) asteroids yet discovered. Unless it ever decides to smash into us – a theoretical possibility, but extremely unlikely over the next few centuries – it will continue orbiting the sun, unknown and unmolested.

That is, unless Planetary Resources has its way. Planetary Resources is the asteroid-mining company launched Tuesday in Seattle, with backing from Microsoft and Google billionaires, along with the equally prominent James Cameron and Ross Perot, Jr.

Its object is to completely dismember poor little rocks like Amun.

That’s because Amun is a goldmine, well, not gold so much. But it does contain a cool $8 trillion worth of platinum, an essential precious metal used in everything from jewelry to fuel cells to computers (and one that’s currently trading at the same rate as gold – $1500 an ounce.) On Earth, only a few hundred tonnes of the stuff are produced every year.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. zof says:

    With such a short time frame I see little hope for success in this noble idea for this company, I have a feeling after a year or two all these big names will split and go their own way with their own ideas about space mining. I’m afraid the soonest we will see an asteroid put into orbit around the moon/earth by man is probably 2020-2025, then at least another 5 – 10 years to figure out how the heck they can actually mine it profitably.

    But more power to them, this is the first true step to man reaching beyond the earth and staying there. Until a profit can be made from space we will be stuck with our current system of government funding/defunding projects that rarely reach beyond low earth orbit.

  2. Matt says:

    Its nice to think of it as 8 Trillion dollars of Platinum, but dropping some hundreds of times the worlds current stock of platinum on the market doesn’t equal more money, it equals lower cost platinum. I wouldn’t mind machining out of platinum instead of aluminum though. Sure would make some platinum investors angry.

  3. kevin says:

    Well, it’s what would currently be 8 trillion in platinum, sure the market will change by the time it’s sold. There would also be a considerable amount of iridium, rare earth metals, nickel, and even gold.
    Asteroids have a mix of elements much closer to the mix in the solar system as a whole, compared to what we have available on the earth’s crust. Most of the iron, and elements that mixed easily with melted iron sank to the core and lower mantle. All the gold, platinum, iridium, nickel, most rare earths, that have been mined and will ever be mined on earth are just the traces left over, or from late asteroid impacts, after the formation of the crust.

    1. kevin says:

      The first to successfully mine and asteroid will basically destroy the industries mining these materials. There will still be mines for other materials, those that are richer in the crust.
      Look up Siderophile elements for what are going to be mined on asteroids.
      The big cost is getting there, and getting there with whatever equipment is needed to do the mining. Getting materials back wouldn’t be cheap, but cheap enough to make it worthwhile.

  4. The most astonishing piece of this post, for me, is that Gold and Platinum are currently valued similarly!! For my entire life, platinum has always been multiple times more valuable than gold. It makes you wonder what changed (supply? demand? utilization by industry? all of the above?). And, it makes me think that the comments above — basically that dumping 8 trillion dollars of platinum on the market will make it worth a lot less than 8 trillion dollars — are probably on the right track.

    Myself, I would worry that I would spend all this time and money building an extra-planetary mining craft, and getting it to the asteroid, only to discover that there is some sort of extremophile bacteria living on the asteroid!! Like some extra-terrestrial spotted owl, this could shut the project down in its tracks.

    1. kevin says:

      Getting 8 trillion in platinum mined and moved to earth and marketed would be a decades process, even once you started. Even at that, it’s about 15 months worldwide production, so it’s not going to destroy the market.

      I think gold prices, which a quick search show to be higher than platinum at the moment, are due to increased demand in electronics, combined with limited supply. Gold mining is going to ever increasing extremes. There are massive, massive open pit mines in places like Australia, on a scale that’s hard to believe, and deep deep mines in South Africa. Mining has gotten to a point where they are looking at tiny amounts in ounces of gold per ton of ore. a quick look shows a pit mine that gets 1 ounce of gold per 17 tonnes of rock removed. At some point someone is going to want to buy landfills to mine for gold.
      The total gold ever mined would only fill a cube 20.4 m on a side.
      I think part of the reason for the platinum focus with asteroid mining is the historic price difference. Now gold is higher priced than platinum, gold might become more of a focus.

      The thing with something like asteroid mining, starting is what’s hard, once the very large investment in money and time is made, an asteroid can be mined to nothing, shipping using hydrogen and oxygen produced there, powering with solar power, possibly heating for refinement operation using solar reflectors, then the factory moved to another asteroid using energy and fuel produced there. Also, NASA and others would want to have their space probes, satellites etc made in space, avoiding the big launch costs. For the people investing their millions now, if it works out, their families will be the richest in the word for generations.

  5. Shouldn’t the UN be involved in overseeing this effort? We should make sure that these capitalists provide a Fair Share to everyone so we can all benefit from their efforts.

    1. Ed says:

      We should tax everyone to make sure they are contributing their Fair Share to this project.

    2. Fredicvs Maximvs says:

      I don’t know about receiving/contributing “fair shares”, but I do wonder if the UN (or some other international agency) shouldn’t make an attempt to set some sort of ground rules governing what is legal and or moral in the event that life is discovered on one of these rocks.

  6. [...] hey, if you got the capital, you need to be investing in this, $20,000,000,000 worth of metals are resting in these flying rocks! Sharing is Caring You [...]

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