Details have been emerging of the plan by billionaire entrepreneurs to mine asteroids for their resources.
The multi-million-dollar plan would use robotic spacecraft to squeeze chemical components of fuel and minerals such as platinum and gold out of the rocks.
The founders include film director and explorer James Cameron as well as Google’s chief executive Larry Page and its executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
They even aim to create a fuel depot in space by 2020.
However, several scientists have responded with scepticism, calling the plan daring, difficult and highly expensive.
They struggle to see how it could be cost-effective, even with platinum and gold worth nearly £35 per gram ($1,600 an ounce). An upcoming Nasa mission to return just 60g (two ounces) of material from an asteroid to Earth will cost about $1bn.
The inaugural step, to be achieved in the next 18 to 24 months, would be launching the first in a series of private telescopes that would search for asteroid targets rich in resources. The intention will be to open deep-space exploration to private industry.
Within five to 10 years, however, the company expects to progress from selling observation platforms in orbit around Earth to prospecting services. It plans to tap some of the thousands of asteroids that pass relatively close to Earth and extract their raw materials.
The company, known as Planetary Resources, is also backed by space tourism pioneer Eric Anderson, X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis, former US presidential candidate Ross Perot and veteran Nasa astronaut Tom Jones.
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