Planetary Resources’ plan to build gas stations in space

Envision yourself pulling into a gas station. You pop open your tank and in a short time your vehicle is refueled and ready to take you wherever it is that you need to be. Now envision the exact same process, in space.  Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of Planetary Resources, intends to make this vision a reality.

In his presentation Tuesday night at Future in Review (FiRe), Strategic News Service’s notoriously forward-thinking technology conference, Lewicki laid out Planetary Resources plans for creating interplanetary gas stations of a sort. With a little investment, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, Lewicki explained the ways in which human beings could quite plausibly mine the hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen available in numerous existing near-earth “objects” to create rocket fuel.

If realized, such an ability would allow us to further our interests in space travel to a degree previously unimagined.

Lewicki also reinforced Planetary Resources’ plans to mine asteroids for rare earth metals that could be brought back to earth. The number of identified near-earth asteroids, Lewicki told the crowd, continues to grow at the rate of three per day. What is more, studies of landed samples show that these asteroids often contain enough rare metals to make these projects profitable. Some contain platinum concentrations that exceed that of the most profitable mining sites on the planet by a factor of 70.

With a shotgun approach to unmanned orbital mining, Lewicki argues, successes in resource and fuel extraction would more than mitigate any losses.

Lewicki compared the unexploited potential of asteroid mining to terrestrial mining enterprises 150 years ago and fielded questions from the audience about staking claims in space. Much of the regulatory environment around that process, he said, has remained unchanged. The only agreement that has imposed limits on commercial activity in space, the Moon Treaty, was never signed by the U.S.

Our current rate of technological advance, Lewicki explained, speaks greatly to our upcoming ability to make these dreams a reality. Not to mention the fact that NASA already has the capability to change the course of asteroids.

“The only reason why the dinosaurs don’t exist today is that they didn’t have a space program,” Lewicki quipped.