Swarms of robots could be mining asteroids within a generation

Within your lifetime, we could have a permanent Mars colony, says Eric C. Anderson, chairman and co-founder of Space Adventures in a new interview with The Atlantic. But that's not all — Anderson also believes we'll have tons of relatively cheap-to-produce robots mining asteroids, sooner than you probably expect.

Top image via Planetary Resources.

Anderson tells The Atlantic:

To make asteroid mining viable, we need spacecraft that can launch and operate in space considerably less expensively than has traditionally been the case....

In 10 years or so, what we'd really like to do is get robotic exploration of space in line with Moore's Law [the tech-world maxim that the price for computing power falls by half every 18 months]. Remember, asteroid mining doesn't involve people. We want to transition space exploration from a linear technology into an exponential one, and create an industry that can flourish off of exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Our first missions, for asteroid reconnaissance, will be launching in the next two to three years. For these missions, we're going to launch small swarms of spacecraft. When I say small, I mean we'll send three or four spacecraft, and each one of those spacecraft may weigh only 30 pounds. But they will have optical sensors that are better than any camera available today. They will send back imagery, they'll map the gravity field, they'll use telescopic remote sensing and spectroscopy to tell us exactly what materials are in the asteroid. It will be possible to know more about an ore body that's 10 million miles away from us in space than it would be to know about an ore body 10 miles below the Earth's surface.

We're really not talking about if; we're talking about when.

Earlier: "FireFly" spaceships to begin exploring asteroids in 2015