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Google billionaires announce scheme to mine asteroids (+video)

A new company backed by some of the world's most prominent billionaires, including three Google executives, plans to mine near-Earth asteroids for precious metals. 

By Mike WallSPACE.com / April 24, 2012

Small, water-rich near-Earth asteroids can be captured by spacecraft, allowing their resources to be extracted, officials with the new company Planetary Resources say.

Planetary Resources, Inc.

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A newly unveiled company with some high-profile backers — including filmmaker James Cameron and Google co-founder Larry Page — is set to announce plans to mine near-Earth asteroids for resources such as precious metals and water.

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Larry Page, James Cameron, and others attempt to mine asteroids in deep space.

Planetary Resources, Inc. intends to sell these materials, generating a healthy profit for itself. But it also aims to advance humanity's exploration and exploitation of space, with resource extraction serving as an anchor industry that helps our species spread throughout the solar system.

"If you look at space resources, the logical next step is to go to the near-Earth asteroids," Planetary Resources co-founder and co-chairman Eric Anderson told SPACE.com. "They're just so valuable, and so easy to reach energetically. Near-Earth asteroids really are the low-hanging fruit of the solar system."

Planetary Resources is officially unveiling its asteroid-mining plans at 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT) Tuesday (April 24) during a news conference at Seattle's Museum of Flight.

Precious metals and water

Two of the resources the company plans to mine are platinum-group metals and water, Anderson said. [Images: Planetary Resources' Asteroid Mining Plans]

Platinum-group metals — ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum — are found in low concentrations on Earth and can be tough to access, which is why they're so expensive. In fact, Anderson said, they don't occur naturally in Earth's crust, having been deposited on our planet over the eons by asteroid impacts.

"We're going to go to the source," Anderson said. "The platinum-group metals are many orders of magnitude easier to access in the high-concentration platinum asteroids than they are in the Earth's crust."

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