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.”
And there are a lot of precious metals up there waiting to be mined. A single platinum-rich space rock 1,650 feet (500 meters) wide contains the equivalent of all the platinum-group metals ever mined throughout human history, company officials said.
“When the availability of these metals increase[s], the cost will reduce on everything including defibrillators, hand-held devices, TV and computer monitors, catalysts,” Planetary Resources co-founder and co-chairman Peter Diamandis said in a statement. “And with the abundance of these metals, we’ll be able to use them in mass production, like in automotive fuel cells.
Many asteroids are rich in water, too, another characteristic the company plans to exploit. Once extracted, this water would be sold in space, providing significant savings over water launched from the ground.
Asteroid water could help astronauts stay hydrated and grow food, provide radiation shielding for spaceships and be broken into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the chief components of rocket fuel, Anderson said.
Planetary Resources hopes its mining efforts lead to the establishment of in-space “gas stations” that could help many spacecraft refuel, from Earth-orbiting satellites to Mars-bound vessels.
“We’re really talking about enabling the exploration of deep space,” Anderson said. “That’s what really gets me excited.