From the depths to the heavens: star director sets out to mine asteroids

After his journey to the bottom of the sea, James Cameron has a new far-flung idea

New York

The priceless mineral sought by boorish human colonisers in James Cameron's movie Avatar was sardonically called "unobtanium". Now, though, the director has decided space could provide humankind with natural resources that are anything but unobtainable, and he is on board with a pioneering new venture designed to mine asteroids for money.

The staggering scale of the ambition is matched only by the fortunes of the billionaires backing the venture and the size of the scientific brains being brought to bear. Yesterday, as a gang of space visionaries enthusiastically launched a company they are calling Planetary Resources Inc, you had to be a hardened cynic not to get caught up in wonderment at the prospects on offer.

Quite apart from the chance to tap vast new sources of vital commodities such as platinum and gold, and perhaps even minerals as yet undiscovered, there was even talk of mining for water and fuel and of "space-gas stations" that could fill up a battalion of rockets as it powers its way to vacation homes on Mars or beyond.

"Asteroids have existed for literally billions of years and have some of the most valuable materials we will need for the future of space and for future of earth," said Eric Anderson, a co-founder of Planetary Resources, at a packed launch event at Seattle's Museum of Flight with leaders of a scientific and business team that includes former astronauts and Nasa engineers.

The founders were silent on the finances of the venture, but insisted that its first unmanned craft would be in orbit within two years, mounted with telescopes prospecting for suitable asteroids. The mining equipment that would have to be bolted to future generations of craft has not been invented yet, let alone a mechanism for getting minerals back to earth.

Mr Cameron – who just last month journeyed to the furthest depths of the Pacific Ocean – has lent himself as an adviser to Planetary Resources, while some of America's best-known billionaires are lending their cash.

Larry Page, founder of Google, and Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, are on board, as is Ross Perot Jnr, son of businessman Ross Perot, whose bid for the presidency of the US in the 1990s looked about as plausible as asteroid mining until he won almost one-fifth of the vote.

The co-chairman of the venture is Peter Diamandis, who set up the first space-tourism business (he brokers seats on Russian rocket journeys to the International Space Station) and runs the X Prize for space innovation, which has generated a private space race and the prospect of sub-orbital space tours starting by the end of this decade.

Mr Diamandis has long claimed the world's first trillionaires will make their fortunes in space and as long ago as 2005 he described the earth as "a crumb in a supermarket filled with resources"."

And what of this supermarket, this orbiting Tesco, where lifeless rocks spin through the solar system? Asteroids are the leftovers of a failed attempt to form a planet billions of years ago. Most of the remnants became the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but some pieces were pushed out to roam and some 1,500 of them are, according to Planetary Resources, "as easy to reach as the moon".

A single 500-metre platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the platinum group metals mined in history, it says.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Rand...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering