“You will be hard-pressed to find a serious piece of microelectronics or structural support inside a human body that does not have a platinum-group element in it,” says Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, an asteroid-mining startup.
Planetary Resources does not expect to find financial backing right away to race off to an asteroid and start digging. Instead, it has mapped a careful path of more and more capable spacecraft—starting with cubesat-based telescope prospectors to study potential targets—and it has a stable of dot-com billionaires willing to fund it, says Anderson. He cut his entrepreneurial teeth sending wealthy space tourists to the ISS on Russian Soyuz vehicles.
Anderson's co-founder at Planetary Resources is Dr. Peter Diamandis, a physician/renaissance man who set up the X-Prize Foundation to promote all kinds of innovation. One of the prizes, backed by Google, is $20 million for a robotic landing on the Moon. Another space-mining operation—Moon Express—hopes to win and use that prize money as its first step toward commercial operations on the lunar surface.
“Moon Express is being held to a Silicon Valley standard of strategy, and of business development,” says CEO Rob Richards, who is one of its founders. “It is an experiment in a way, of merging how Silicon Valley does things, with traditional aerospace, which does things well. So we're at the boundary condition of these two worlds that really haven't met before. We have people from both. We're using what we know is tried and true . . . from our relationships with NASA. But we're also structured financially to develop our value as a company.”