Space for Profit

Monday, April 30, 2012

I've been seeing a startup premised on mining asteroids in the news off and on lately. While the idea sounded intriguing, it also sounded to me like a great way to lose money. But that's the last thing the founders of Planetary Resources plan to to. They already have a "positive cash flow", and when one reads about it in Forbes, the reason quickly becomes apparent: Their approach, like their goal, is the opposite to that taken by our prestige-driven, profilgate government space agencies.

"We're the first to admit this is a long term endeavour," says Lewicki. "Despite the fact that we have the backing of wealthy funders, it's irresponsible to just throw money away. We're building a business, not performing a stunt."

Part of the reason why the company expects to make money on an ongoing basis is that fact that they're focused on low cost delivery. To get to that point, they're bringing current approaches to building spacecraft into the 21st century by focusing on mass production and taking advantage of technologies available from other companies so that they don't have to develop everything in-house. [bold added]
In addition to using existing technologies and a commoditization approach, the company will take advantage of other opportunities to make money that present themselves at each stage of their efforts.
Putting space telescopes into Earth orbit provides several business opportunities for Planetary Resources. Being in orbit, they're in a position to identify and track near-Earth asteroids that can't be seen from Earth's surface. The Arkyd 100s will also be equipped to determine the size of asteroids, determine their orbits, and use light spectra to compare to meteorites to arrive at estimates of the asteroid composition. In addition, the telescopes are capable of being pointed at Earth for observation, as well. All of this potential for gathering data is a potential opportunity to sell that data to universities, businesses, and government.

In addition, Lewicki confirmed to me that they'll also be putting Arkyds on the market, as well as a tool for private scientific work. ... 
The approach of this company to a huge problem is fascinating to read, especially after a lifetime of seeing only the government attempt to solve similar problems. It's also inspiring to see that, although having the government run everything stunts the imagination of most people, it doesn't stunt everyone's imagination.

-- CAV

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