Asteroid mining, a job for engineers who don’t want to miss a thing

Fans of the movie ‘Armageddon’ will fondly recall the moment when Bruce Willis and his team of drilling specialists landed on an Earth-bound asteroid, planted a bomb and listened to Aerosmith. It was a vision of futuristic engineering resources that…

Fans of the movie ‘Armageddon’ will fondly recall the moment when Bruce Willis and his team of drilling specialists landed on an Earth-bound asteroid, planted a bomb and listened to Aerosmith. It was a vision of futuristic engineering resources that seemed a million miles away, but a technology start-up backed by the co-founder of Google and the director of Avatar is actively searching for talented people who want to be asteroid miners.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Planetary Resources Inc. (PRI) has vacancies for qualified and enthusiastic engineers, computer scientists and “general space nuts,” who want to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials. The job postings, which are genuine, require applicants to have knowledge of a variety of engineering tools and disciplines that include mechanical, electrical, civil, aerospace and computer science, but just wanting to mine asteroids is not enough.
Astronomy, physics, geology, planetary science, fabrication, software, physics, law, business and IT are all considered to be fields of expertise that would fit in with the aims of the company, as well as some experience in mining.
Big name investors
PRI sees a big future in asteroid mining, a future that Larry Page and James Cameron, two of the big-name investors in the Washington State-based startup, are fully on-board with.
The company was founded in 2010 and originally known as Arkyd Astronautics. It was rebranded in April of this year as PRI, and its long term goal has always been the development of low orbit space telescopes that can be used to locate near-Earth asteroids. The stated belief of PRI is that these could be mined, through cost-effective and innovative technology, to provide raw materials that can be used as a sustainable source for engineering or manufacturing companies.
The job posting on the company website, and through a number of other media sources, is geared more towards engineers than any other industry sector, with the firm looking to develop “new systems and technologies for the commercial robotic exploration of asteroids.” Once the team is in place, PRI will look to build the asteroid-locating telescopes, followed by robotic probes that can land on the rock to determine their mining value.
“Resource extraction from asteroids will deliver multiple benefits to humanity and grow to be valued at tens of billions of dollars annually,” the company says.”The effort will tap into the high concentration of precious materials found on asteroids and will provide a foundation for further space exploration and a sustainable supply of raw materials to the ever-growing population on Earth. It may sound like science fiction, but it’s just science!”
NASA business feasibility study
The public appeal by PRI for the right people to join its team of engineers, technology innovators, robotic specialists and miners falls in line with the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program. In September 2012, the agency awarded a contract to a space architect to study the feasibility of asteroid mining, with the objective being to “ascertain whether the technology exists to create a viable asteroid mining operation.”
Dr. Marc Cohen, based in Palo Alto, California, will be designing a mission that will involve a robotic miner that would be launched into space and rendezvous with a near Earth asteroid, mine it and then come back to its original launching point.
The study has a number of assumptions including an operating space telescope that can locate asteroids and a commercial infrastructure that can support the mining. It also believes that only two types of asteroid are suitable for this type of business venture, the metal-rich M type and the water-abundant C type.