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Before attacking asteroids, they'll surround Earth with telescopes

The Associated Press
This computer-generated image provided by Planetary Resources, a group of high-tech tycoons that wants to mine nearby asteroids, shows a conceptual rendering of satellites prospecting a water-rich, near-Earth asteroid.

Whether they ever manage to get any platinum out of an asteroid, Bellevue-based Planetary Resources could become known for surrounding Earth with telescopes.  

That’s the first item in the “prospecting” stage of the space company’s effort to get precious metals from asteroids, using robotic space-craft. They plan to launch an array of “personal space-telescopes,” within two years, surrounding earth and scanning for asteroids.

When they’re not looking for asteroids, those telescopes could be rented by researchers or private companies, and even used in school classrooms. They can be aimed into space, or back at Earth.

So, before all the science fiction stuff ever gets off the ground—and even if it fails—the telescopes seem like a pretty sure bet. As Alan Boyle reports at, other private space ventures plan to sell data to NASA, providing revenue during early phases of exploration.

Planetary Resources has deep-pocketed financial backing, from technology billionaires, such as former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi of Medina, and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. 

If you missed their news conference at Seattle's Museum of Flight, here's a replay (without the questions from reporters):

An asteroid small enough to fit inside the Museum of Flight could be worth $100 billion – if it contained enough platinum, gold, and other rare metals, according to Planetary Resources co-founder and co-chairman Eric Anderson. By bringing important metals back to Earth, where they could be a boon to hi-tech manufacturing, Anderson says this new mining industry would improve everyone's standard of living.

The company already employs about two dozen people in Bellevue, where it also plans to manufacture its telescopes and other equipment.

Keith Seinfeld has been KPLU’s Health & Science Reporter since 2001, and prior to that covered the Environment beat. He’s been a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.