Meteorites can show our relationship with the solar system, but they also provide clues to the composition of asteroids both near and far. Those asteroids could be the next frontier for some space explorers.

Planetary Resources in Redmond is one of the private companies that sees potential in mining near-Earth asteroids for ice and rare metals. They plan to do it using technology we already have, inexpensively and on private rockets. CEO Chris Lewicki compares the hunt for asteroids to the American West.

“It’s like the first steam engines: not much to look at, but they helped us settle the West,” he says.

Using small satellites for the prospecting phase, Lewicki says the company is first identifying the most likely candidates for mining.

In less than a decade, they’ll be sending the first robot miners to the chosen asteroids, says Lewicki, with the intent to process those resources there, and then use those resources to facilitate space exploration.

Private asteroid mining companies attract the new pioneers of space: engineers, computer scientists, and others eager to explore.

“I’ve always been a bit of a space geek and this is an opportunity to be involved without working for either a government lab or a defense contractor,” says Ben Eitzen ’07 MS. “The most exciting aspect to me is seeing several different engineering disciplines come together to build something that actually gets strapped onto a rocket and blasted into space.”

Read more soon about how Planetary Resources plans to find and mine the asteroids.