By Irene Klotz, Reuters
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — Google Inc. executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and filmmaker James Cameron are among those bankrolling a venture to survey and eventually extract precious metals and rare minerals from asteroids that orbit near Earth, the company said on Tuesday. Planetary Resources, based in Bellevue, Washington, initially will focus on developing and selling extremely low-cost robotic spacecraft for surveying missions. A demonstration mission in orbit around Earth is expected to be launched within two years, said company co-founders Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson. Planetary Resources’ aim is to open deep-space exploration to private industry, much like the US$10 million Ansari X Prize competition, which Diamandis created. The prize, which galvanized the emerging commercial human spaceflight industry, was awarded in 2004 to Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne for the first flights beyond Earth’s atmosphere by a privately developed, manned spaceship. Commercial suborbital spaceflights are expected to begin next year. Planetary Resources’ first customers are likely to be science agencies, such as NASA, as well as private research institutes. Within five to 10 years, however, the company expects to progress from selling observation platforms in orbit around Earth to prospecting services. It plans to tap some of the thousands of asteroids that pass relatively close to Earth and extract their raw materials.