1. ITV Report

The space mining plan that is more than just sci-fi fantasy

Planetary Resources plans to search asteroids for precious metal and minerals Photo: Planetary Resources

A US start-up company plans to search asteroids for precious metal and minerals, it sounds like a plot from a sci-film but it really is happening in reality.

Planetary Resources, based in Washington, has outlined its strategy to take the mining industry into near-Earth orbit.

It will initially focus on developing and selling low-cost robots that can be used for surveying missions.

The company eventually plans to offer prospecting services that would tap some of the thousands of asteroids within relatively easy reach of Earth.

Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and Titanic director James Cameron are among those bankrolling the venture.

At a press conference in Seattle, Planetary Resources set out its vision as ITV News' Washington Correspondent Robert Moore reports.

Mining from asteroids has been a staple of futurist thinking since the Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky first proposed it in the early 1900s.

Fast-forward a century and high commodity prices, a mini-boom in private space flight and mining costs have combined to reinvigorate interest in tapping the vast resources of outer space.

The cost of mining platinum on earth is rising at 16 to 20 percent per year.

Anglo American, the world's biggest platinum producer, estimates that about half the world's production is unprofitable at today's price of about $1,500 per ounce.

Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Planetary Resources, estimates a 30-metre long asteroid could contain $25 billion to $50 billion worth of platinum, at today's prices.

Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Planetary Resources, said it was his ambition as a teenager to be an asteroid miner Credit: Planetary Resources

Mr Diamandis told the press conference:

"Since my early teenage years I've wanted to be an asteroid miner, I always viewed it as a glamorous vision of where we could go.

Ultimately my passion about opening up space makes that vision of asteroid mining not only a reality but something that we need to do.

It is my vision to make the resources of space to available to humanity both in space and here on Earth."

– Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Planetary Resources

The success of the project largely depends on huge technical leaps, imagination but even if the project never returns a single rock to Earth, the innovations it could spawn could reap rewards for its backers.