A slew of space entrepreneurs are trying to convince investors that there's gold -- and platinum and other precious minerals -- inside asteroids, just waiting to be mined.
It's a claim some venture capitalists fear might just be an investor black-hole, however.
One entrepreneurial venture, Deep Space Industries, this week unveiled a somewhat fantastic plan that utilizes as early as 2015 a fleet of micro-satellites to explore potential asteroid mining sites. When it identifies a few of them, the company will deploy larger spaceships to harness them and ultimately drag them back to Earth for mining and processing.
But Deep Space Industries lacks the deep pockets needed to reach for the stars, and fiscal needs may be a bigger challenge than technical ones.
“It needs serious, deep pockets, execution backing the vision, and far more than PowerPoint designs and pretty pictures to realize this fantastic future of abundance for the human race,” said Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express -- and a believer in the new venture. Richards' company has been working for two years on a related project: mining the lunar surface. Despite a series of baby steps, they've barely budged the needle.
“I’ve never worked so hard to find investment capital ... and we've only just begun,” Richards told FoxNews.com. “Pie in the sky? Absolutely. But reachable,” he added.
Big dreams often lead to amazing accomplishments. Going to the moon would likely have seemed an impossibility in the '50s. But the Apollo project that took Neil Armstrong and 11 other Americans to the lunar surface cost roughly $200 billion in 2012 dollars. Today's dreamers lack capital on that scale. And that’s okay, they say.
Deep Space Industries’ CEO David Gump told FoxNews.com that just a few million dollars is needed to kick-start the project.
“That’s the great thing about the 21st century; great tech doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg,” Gump said. “We're only going to raise $3 million this year and $10 million next year. When you combine that with progress payments from customers, that's all we need to get the initial phase underway.”
Even that may prove a challenge, however. The company has yet to announce an official customer. Gump told FoxNews.com he met with NASA leadership this week to discuss his proprietary technology; Deep Space Industries could vet space technology ahead of the government, which also plans to head to an asteroid.
The asteroid miners join at least a dozen companies aiming to mine the moon, with start dates for their projects that range from next year to 2020 and beyond.
And Deep Space Industries won't be alone in the asteroid belt: Planetary Resources Inc. announced a plan last April to mine asteroids too, backed by the bulging wallets of Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Ross Perot, Jr., James Cameron and others.
"Planetary Resources is definitely a great example of ‘Having a healthy disregard for the impossible,’ ” Page said. The company said it was extraordinarily busy this week, in an announcement described as a “mining update from the factory floor.” The company has a full-scale prototype -- one that can fit in the trunk of your car.
Yet it did not provide an update on when the ships would launch, or when the first metal would be returned from an asteroid.
Still, tapping the hurtling resources of the cosmos is a viable plan, experts insisted.
“They have the potential to make an enormous amount of money,” Mark Hopkins, a founding member of the Space Development Steering Committee and the Chair of the Exec. Committee of the National Space Society, told FoxNews.com.
“It’s a risky venture. But if they don’t make it some other company is likely to do it in the future,” Hopkins said. “[Space mining] has the potential of restoring the American dream in the minds of Americans and the rest of the world.”
And space entrepreneurs aren't only looking at making money by mining minerals. The Golden Spike Company made headlines in December with a plan to take ordinary tourists to the moon (for the low, low price of $1.5 billion per traveler). Like Deep Space Industries, the company will be relying on investors to turn a dream into a reality.
“Both companies made a point of going public so that potential investors might take notice,” wrote Marc Boucher on industry blog SpaceRef. “Unfortunately they and other like-minded companies are all after the same investors who don't seem to be interested at this stage.”
Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.