A large asteroid making a pass by Earth this weekend is believed to be worth more than the entire economy of Japan and it’s got observers of the space mining industry (still more of a concept than an actual industry, really) looking to a near to medium-term future when we might be able to do more than just wave as it flies past.
Asteroid 2011 UW158 will pass just 1.5 million miles from our planet today, putting it about six times further out than our moon but many more times nearer to us than Mars or Venus. While it’s only believed to be about a half mile across, the platinum core of the thing could be worth over 5 trillion dollars.
One of the most high level companies that could be in a position to exploit opportunities like 2011 UW158 is Planetary Resources, which deployed its first spacecraft from the International Space Station this week (a small flyer meant to test some of the basic technologies that will later be used in a space telescope to spot potential asteroid mining targets). Among the firm’s leadership and backers are Peter Diamandis of X Prize fame, Google founder Larry Page and MIT’s Sara Seager. The company describes 2011 UW158 as a “prime example of an asteroid Planetary Resources will aim to mine in the future.”