SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and billionaire co-founder Larry Page have teamed up with "Avatar" director James Cameron and other investors to back an ambitious space exploration and natural resources venture, details of which will be unveiled next week.
The fledgling company, called Planetary Resources, will be unveiled at a Tuesday news conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, according to a press release issued this week.
Aside from naming some of the company's high-profile backers, the press release disclosed tantalizingly few details, saying only that the company will combine the sectors of "space exploration and natural resources" in a venture that could add "trillions of dollars to the global GDP." The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Planetary Resources will explore the feasibility of mining natural resources from asteroids, a decades-old concept.
"This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources,'" according to the press release.
Planetary Resource was co-founded by Eric Anderson, a former NASA Mars mission manager, and Peter Diamandis, the commercial space entrepreneur behind the X-Prize, a competition that offered $10 million to a group that launched a reusable manned spacecraft. Other notable investors include Charles Simonyi, a former top executive at Microsoft, and K. Ram Shriram, a Google director.
The venture will be the latest foray into the far-flung for Cameron, who dived last month in a mini-submarine to the deepest spot in the Mariana Trench. The plot of his 2009 science fiction blockbuster film, "Avatar," concerned resource mining on alien planets.
(Reporting By Gerry Shih; Editing by Bernard Orr)
The bloon, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/24/bloon-space-balloon-pictures-video_n_935415.html" target="_hplink">a helium-filled balloon</a>, will take a capsule with as many as six people to 118,000 feet -- not quite outer space, but near space. The company expects to make its first commercial flight in 2013. The cost? €110,000, or about $147,000.
NASA announced in September that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/14/nasa-space-launch-system-sls_n_962051.html" target="_hplink">it's developing the Space Launch System (SLS)</a>, a heavy-lift rocket that will one day take humans farther than ever before. The 34-story rocket will carry six astronauts aboard the <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv/" target="_hplink">Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle</a>. <a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2392960,00.asp" target="_hplink">According to PC Mag</a>, NASA will spend $18 billion over the next five years developing the SLS. With <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/14/space-shuttle-program-qa-_n_861994.html" target="_hplink">the retirement of the space shuttle program</a>, NASA currently pays Russia around $60 million per person to get American astronauts into space. Remember, there's still time <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/nasa-to-hire-new-astronauts_n_1095686.html" target="_hplink">to apply to be an astronaut</a>.
Over 450 "astronauts" have already booked a $200,000 spot on Sir Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo, a craft that will take passengers to an altitude of 110 km (68.3 miles). Branson hopes to begin commercial flights in 2013, but that date could get pushed back. "We want to be sure we've really tested the craft through and through before turning it over to the astronauts who bought tickets to go up," he said in October, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/richard-branson-dedicates_n_1017226.html" target="_hplink">according to the Associated Press</a>. "If it takes a bit longer, we'll take a little bit longer." Passengers will experience about five minutes of weighlessness during the 2 1/2 hour sub-orbital spaceflight.
In December 2010, SpaceX <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/spacex-international-space-station_n_927916.html" target="_hplink">became the first private company</a> to have a spacecraft re-enter orbit, <a href="http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20101208" target="_hplink">when its Dragon spacecraft</a> orbited earth twice and then landed in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop? The International Space Station. A representative from SpaceX told HuffPost that a Dragon capsule carrying supplies to the ISS will launch in early 2012. It will be the first commercial company to berth a spacecraft with the space station. But you're going to have to be a NASA astronaut to hitch a ride to space with SpaceX, as the company doesn't have any plans in the near future for space tourism.
Blue Origin, the notoriously-secretive company underwritten by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is developing both orbital and sub-orbital launch vehicles to take people into space. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/03/blue-origin-spaceship-fai_n_947731.html" target="_hplink">The company recently released video</a> of a test of its New Shepard rocket, a three-person capsule and launch vehicle that the company is planning to use to take space tourists "to the edge of space." The cost and timeline of the completion of the New Shepard is unclear. <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nasa-awards-next-set-of-commercial-crew-development-agreements-120113774.html" target="_hplink">In April, Blue Origin was awarded</a> $22 million from NASA "to advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of their systems, such as launch vehicles and spacecraft."
Space Adventures, a company that has sent seven private citizens to the International Space Station, <a href="http://www.spaceadventures.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.viewnews&newsid=791" target="_hplink">announced in 2010</a> that it would partner with Armadillo Aerospace to provide suborbital spaceflights. The <a href="http://www.spaceadventures.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=suborbital.Vehicle_Design" target="_hplink">two-passenger rocket</a> will land and take-off vertically and allow for a 360-degree view of the earth below. According to Jaunted, the rocket will travel 62 miles above the earth. <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/13/space-adventures-undercuts-virgin-galactic-announces-100-000/" target="_hplink">Engadget reports</a> that a flight to space will set you back $102,000.
Of course, you'll need somewhere to put your bags once you're in space. Orbital Technologies, a Russian company, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/21/space-hotel-pictures-video_n_931951.html" target="_hplink">is building a space hotel</a> where 7 guests will be able to dine on veal cheeks and wild mushrooms at 217 miles above the earth. The company is planning to open the hotel in 2016. <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/19/russia-space-tourism-idUSLDE77F0PF20110819" target="_hplink">According to Reuters</a>, a five-day stay will set you back a cool $1 million.