Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Space Surveyor

Asteroid mining will become an integral part of the future space industry. Asteroids contain the vital water, precious metals, and raw materials for space companies to profit from and build with. But how does a future space miner know which asteroids could contain the mother load? They don't. At this point one rock is as good as another. But a company could be created who's sole purpose would be to explore asteroids and become "the" space surveyor who's product is information .

There are several ways a business for space surveying could be executed. It could create a network of earth-based telescopes that search for asteroids with certain sizes and orbits. It could create orbital telescopes that also look at size and orbit, but could see more and even do some basic spectrography on the rocks. And last, actual exploratory spacecraft can be created that go map and collect samples of asteroids.

A far as a profit strategy goes, the company would be in the business of selling information. It would provide data on all of the objects that it has explored. This data could be maps, locations, compositions. In return for this information, the surveying company could receive either a base fee or a piece of the profits that the mining company receives. With this strategy the surveying company would have very little risk and would be able to focus completely on developing better exploratory technologies.

If anyone is doubting the feasibility of this idea they should know that one company actually already is working towards all of the above concepts in an iterative process.  Planetary Resources, is just completing the  creation of an orbital asteroid surveying telescope that is small and inexpensive. The purpose of these telescopes will be to map as many Near-Earth asteroids as possible. Then PR is going to create surveying spacecraft that explore the asteroids that they find with the telescopes. Once that is complete, they intend to create the actual mining craft that will collect the asteroids and move them to where they need to go, like space stations, colonies, or lunar orbit.

The trouble with this model is that Planetary resources is trying to do everything themselves. They are trying to take on all of the development, deployment and management, of both the discovery and the mining of the asteroids. If they were to focus on just finding ideal candidates for mining, Planetary Resources would be able to become "the company" to go to to get information on viable asteroids to mine. With that being said, PR has been leveraging all kinds of income streams from their work so far, so it will not be surprising if they back off on their ambitions of mining in order to become the information company envisioned in this article.

Exploration will always be a part of the space industry. But as more companies look to the possibilities of space they will come to realize that it is much easier to ask for help than to "do it yourself." The space surveying companies that are being created now and in the future will be the "trail guides" of the new frontier. Telling the noobs where the best places to search for the gold is, for a price.

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