As you may know, I'm the co-founder and co-chairman of an asteroid company called Planetary Resources that is backed by a group of eight billionaires to implement the bold mission of extracting resources from near-Earth asteroids. Given my personal interest in asteroids, today is an epic day. If you're interested in more info on this, I urge you to join our mission at Planetary by signing up for the regular updates on our website.
In the meantime, I want to fill you in on two breaking stories.
First: At about 09:30 local time, a large meteor exploded in the skies over Chelyabinsk, a city in Russia just east of the Ural mountains, and about 1,500 kilometers east of Moscow. The fireball was incredibly bright, rivaling the Sun! There was a pretty big sonic boom from the fireball, which set off car alarms and shattered windows. Reports are coming in that up to 1,000 individuals have been injured (mostly by shattered glass blown out by the shock wave).
Second: This comes exactly at the same time that another asteroid -- 2012-DA14, a 150-foot (45 meter) asteroid -- is whizzing by the Earth a hair's breath from the surface. It's missing us by only 14,000 miles, well within the 22,300-mile orbit of the geostationary satellites that orbit around the Earth's equator. I wanted to put this in perspective for you with some of the chilling and fascinating facts:
- This asteroid 2012-DA14 is approximately the same size as the asteroid that hit the Earth in Russia in Siberia (the "Tunguska Event") on June 30, 1908.
- That impact was equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima nuclear bombs and knocked down 80 million trees down over an area covering 2,150 square kilometers (830 sq mi).
- Had it hit near a population center it would have killed millions of people.
Today, there are approximately 610,000 asteroids that are actively tracked in our solar system. This number represents less than 1 percent of the more than 60 million asteroids that orbit the Sun. Of these asteroids, about 1.5 million are larger than 1 kilometer in size and are what might be described as "extinction-level/dinosaur-killing asteroids."
Today scientists are closely tracking 434 asteroids that are large enough and come close enough to the Earth to be of potential future concern, and while none of these pose any significant risk today, increased surveillance is required.
While the primary business of Planetary Resources is to ultimately prospect and mine the most select of these for fuels and precious metals, the company views that this economically driven activities will assist humanity in the arena of planetary protection in two critical ways.
First, the Arkyd-100 Space Telescopes that the company is currently designing and building will assist in the detection and characterization of these small, potentially hazardous, yet undetected asteroids.
Second, as the company ultimately develops the capability and infrastructure for intercepting and mining asteroids, Planetary Resources expects to be able to help in the (slight) redirection of these rocks to keep the Earth safe.
Mining asteroids will ultimately benefit humanity on and off the Earth in a multitude of ways. First, by providing us access to the fuels to accelerate human exploration of space. Second, by expanding humanity's economic access to platinum group metals important for our rapidly growing high-technology industries; and third, by giving us the infrastructure to routinely and swiftly interact with and redirect asteroids, like 2012 DA14, which could someday pose a threat to Earth.
On the production floor of Planetary Resources Inc, we also now have full-scale mechanical prototypes of the Arkyd-100 Series, which is the first line in its family of deep-space prospecting spacecraft. According to our President & Chief Engineer, Chris Lewicki, "The Arkyd-100 Series will be the most advanced spacecraft per kilogram that has ever been built. The system will be highly capable and cost-effective, which will allow for a constellation of them to be launched. That efficiency will not only fast-track our asteroid prospecting effort, but will also lend a hand in scientific discovery and planetary defense."