Asteroid Mining Company Turns To Kickstarter For Funding

When it comes to business, the sky is no longer the limit.

Funded partially by Google Inc. and partially by crowdsourcing, a private company is ramping up an effort to begin mining the solar system’s many asteroids, an idea that not long ago was limited to the pages of science fiction but has blossomed in the current space-exploration environment of “smaller, faster, cheaper.”

Out of this world …
Bellevue, Washington’s Planetary Resources even has a plan to involve early investors by offering space on the side of its proposed space telescope to display pictures of donors who pledge $25. A remote camera would snap a photo of the telescope with the personalized picture with Earth in the background. The money raised with the photos would be used to further fund the telescope, which is projected to be deployed in 2015 and search for mine-able asteroids.

… or out of their minds?
For the amateur astronomer, a $200 pledge gives you the privilege of pointing the telescope at a heavenly object. Which is amazing, but it’s a long way from flying out to asteroids to start digging up water and precious metals and returning the goods to Earth, isn’t it?

That’s true, say scientists, but it is financially possible — whether it is economically viable is another matter. Cal Tech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) estimates that for “just” $2.6 billion, spacecraft could be landed on the giant rocks and commence mining.

The idea is not a new one — Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiokolvsky first floated it in 1903 — and lifting off from an asteroid, even with a cargo bay full of ore and water, would be orders of magnitude less expensive than it would be taking off from the much more massive rock known as planet Earth.

Putting the “fun” in “funding”
Perhaps more immediately exciting is the “crowdfunding” that Planetary Resources is tapping in order (literally) to get their project off the ground. The company is using Kickstarter to solicit small donations from the innumerable people interested in space exploration, or just in the idea that a business future might be in the stars.

Planetary Resources is putting together a massive outreach program to excite and inspire everyone from kids who were too young to see a space shuttle launch to older folks who remember not only men walking on the moon, but also Alan Shepherd first opening space for the United States.

Engineers wanted
The outreach effort is also aimed at recruiting engineers with the right stuff to help shape the company’s technical platform for space mining. It could work — movies like Apollo 13 and HBO’s From Earth to the Moonportray engineers and scientists as true American heroes — and what young (or even old) engineer wouldn’t want to create new glory days for space exploration?

Of course, having founders of Google, actual astronauts, and explorer/filmmaker James Cameron as investors and advisers is exciting and promising in itself, something that Planetary Resources hopes will help convince fans into actual supporters of the project, dipping into their own pockets for $25, $200, or however much they feel they want to contribute to the future of (business)man in space.