Canadian space experts excited by plan to use robots to mine asteroids

QUEBEC – One Canadian space expert calls the plan to use robots to extract gold and platinum from asteroids within 10 years an exciting development.

Ron Holdway, the outgoing president of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, says he doesn’t think it will happen in the medium term.

But he adds that he would hesitate to bet against James Cameron based on the Canadian filmmaker’s track record of vision and success.

Cameron, Google’s Larry Page and Peter Diamandis, two Silicon Valley titans, are backing the new venture.

“It typically takes a very long time to make these kinds of things happen and it requires billions of dollars,” Holdway told The Canadian Press.

“Now if we get a bunch of successful tycoons spending their own money and billions of dollars, it’s likely that they can probably figure out a way to do it for less than the government would do it.”

A top official at the Canadian Space Agency agrees with Holdway.

“It will take many years, but it’s very exciting to see that there is interest from the commercial point of view,” Jean-Claude Piedboeuf said in an interview.

The CSA’s director of space exploration development noted that the space agency has already been working with the Canadian mining industry to develop a drill for lunar mining.

“We are developing the technology to do some prospecting to extract a small amount of resource, to analyze it and to see if there is a business case to extract resources,” he said.

Piedboeuf added that in the long term, it will happen — but only if there’s a big increase in the price of Earth resources which would justify the costs.

“One of the reasons we explore is to extend — not only the human frontier — but to expand the commercial frontier of Earth,” he said.

“The reason to explore at some point is business benefits and what it will bring to people on Earth, and having commercial activity is one of the best ways to bring benefits to people.”

Piedboeuf made his comments at a conference organized by the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute.

The newly-created Planetary Resources Inc. plans to use commercially built robotic ships to squeeze rocket fuel and valuable minerals out of the rocks that routinely whiz by Earth.

One of the company founders predicts they could have their version of a space-based gas station up and running by 2020.