A Near-Term Private Profitable Manned Mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid
[This is a very old article, mid-1990s.]
Below, I explain in general terms how a near term "First Mission" can be profitable and not cost too much compared to other, conventional development projects on Earth like an offshore oil platform or various property development ventures. However, before that, a brief government vs. private synopsis would put it into the proper context.
Work to date has been performed almost entirely under US government support. However, this well established trend is to spend money and time performing endless additional paper studies and small scale laboratory research without a significant push to go get space resources. This is what's been going on for more than 20 years in the lunar and asteroidal materials utilization field, and there are no significant signs of change with the established technocratic leadership, most of whom seem complacent with their status, income and narrow technical analyses. Moreover, with national budget problems, and lack of strong, visionary, bold leadership (i.e., too busy engaging in reactionary moves following existing interest groups, rather than higher leadership), there's little to look forward to on the horizon unless we do something extraordinary ourselves. Between the US and less expensive Russian manned space programs, we have all we need -- manned space capability, especially as a Russian export.
We already know enough to make a decision that it would be in the national interest of any country (US, Russia, Japan, or anyone else with launch capability or willing to buy it from another country) to embark on a program to utilize space resources and develop an edge in the technology useful in the high frontier economy - an immense new export market. However, we're all humans, so forget nationalism. Consider multinationalism (and international security).
Personally, I would prefer to see a private multinational company embark on such a project rather than a specific nation or governmental bureaucracy. While I would happily be of assistance to either in the absence of much serious work, at this point in time I'd rather not lobby arrogant career government bureaucrats any longer and instead promote a private sector venture, and indeed also invite government employees who've had enough of their governmental limitations.
Understand, most of the government work on using lunar materials is for a lunar scientific base and a steppingstone to a manned Mars mission, which is an old, traditional NASA goal, and not for making products and services to benefit Earth economies and people as is the purpose of PERMANENT and certain others.
This article focuses on a private sector mission, which appears more able to act quickly in the near term to develop the market due to less bureaucracy and delays in decisionmaking, inclusions of freelance talent, and leaner & meaner organizational options. A free enterprise space economy would be naturally more sustainable, more accountable to practical needs and wants, and would be able to offer many more products and services. While governments have more money and can absorb risk and long payback times, what is needed is well within reach by the private sector -- less money than the Alaska oil pipeline and many offshore oil platforms, and a shorter payback time than those megaprojects. Unlike offshore oil platforms, we're guaranteed to not come up with a dry hole. It's lower risk, higher payback, and greater potential.
The risk is debatable in the details but is fairly clear in the general decision points. For example, traditional government-contracting researchers (who tend to be low risk types) state over and over in their research bids that we still don't know precisely what is the best design of equipment to use to mine the moon (and how much different is the story than it was 20 years ago... before the last 20 years of R&D in this field…), and we need to pay them to perform more research (can we expect endless technical papers regarding better equipment?) ... but for the first major step out an optimal equipment design is not necessary. Indeed, we may be wasting our time with paper studies until we retrieve some real asteroidal material and start working with it in orbit. So, what we really need to do is simply go stake a real estate claim on an asteroid, characterize it, get some asteroid resources, bring them back to Earth orbit, start experimenting with and developing some space-based industrial techniques on this retrieved material, and stake and develop patented systems.
We should use relatively unspecialized but flexible equipment that will do a satisfactory enough job to turn a profit, even though it might turn out to be far from what would have been proper or optimal. We should follow the successful Apollo adage: "Better is the enemy of good enough." Time counts, too.
Below, I lay out a general scenario whereby we retrieve some bulk asteroidal material into low Earth orbit, start developing space based industrial equipment using this bulk material, make some useful and valuable products as a result of this R&D, and make large amounts of money in indirect ways.
A first mission, with the proper public relations effort, would surely mobilize public attention, including capital from the world's biggest movers and shapers. The current barriers are publicity of the concepts (which this book deals with) and the psychological barrier ("Is this for real?" -- but forget the die-hard skeptics -- cynics never have found a way to make a difference in making history).
A first mission, however modest, would open the floodgates to investment and competition - a "space race" between private companies, and the owner of the first mission would have a huge lead on the competition as well as be in a strong position to sell to the competition. What better game plan is there?
A first mission to retrieve asteroidal resources into Earth orbit needs only to go collect a huge mass of materials and return this bulk to Earth orbit. Nothing fancy or advanced.
The same could be said for lunar materials. However, I think asteroidal materials are cheaper because less fuel is needed (i.e., smaller, cheaper spacecraft), it doesn't need to perform a risky landing and launch from a big gravitational body like the Moon (especially with a sizeable collection of material!), and the quality of material from asteroids is much better. (In the moon vs. asteroids debate, few people question that asteroids offer much better materials in the long run.)
How would this first asteroid manned mission make money?
First, it would be a media event. The Olympics, the U.S. Super Bowl, and the Apollo 11 mission received immense TV coverage, and the money numbers for advertisements for the Olympics and U.S. Super Bowl are impressive -- they each made much more money from advertising than the total cost of any of the current and proposed future NASA missions to study asteroids. When video footage of the landing and exploration goes onto TV, and all the discussion panels form, the value of the advertisement breaks alone could exceed the total cost of the mission. Understand: The video footage is copyrighted and sold, not given away. This is not NASA or at taxpayer expense. The private launch preparations and in-transit video footage may also be significantly valuable, not just the value of the actual landing and operations on our prospective ore body. The mission planners should copyright, encrypt and sell rights to all the video footage. The publicity should emphasize not only visiting the first asteroid, but also the purpose of starting the historic human expansion into space and an era of space products to benefit Earth in order to maximize public interest and the value of the stock of investing companies.
Consider this: The 1992 summer Olympics in Spain sold for $401 million to NBC for broadcast in the USA alone. For $1.1 billion, U.S. Major League Baseball sold four years of only the World Series and playoff games. This does not include the international market, e.g., Japan, Europe and moreso the rest of the world altogether, who would surely be interested in viewing a dramatic manned mission to an asteroid for the purpose of space colonization and industrialization. And not just the males of the species who typically watch the sporting events. (Ref: Gump, SM7)
The movie Titanic passed the $1 billion mark within a few months of its release and eventually grossed $1.8 billion worldwide. The 1998 movie Deep Impact (of a comet hitting Earth) was a smash hit, too, grossing $350m worldwide, while Armageddon (of an asteroid hitting the Earth) did even better, making over $500m worldwide. These figures do not include worldwide sales of VHS tapes, DVDs and also video/DVD rentals, let alone other merchandizing like soundtracks, T-shirts, posters etc, which amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue. I should mention that PERMANENT had the basis for the movie up on the PERMANENT website 3 years before the movie Deep Impact came out, with an asteroid hitting an ocean, not a comet, being the worst case scenario!
For comparison, the privately funded NEAP probe to a near Earth asteroid was projected to cost less than $100 million and probably close to $50 million.
Whatever company embarks on the manned mission will get immense benefits in name and product recognition, status, and general value enhancement of the company's other products. A consortium of companies could benefit as well -- everyone who chips in. For example, if Mitsubishi advertises the fact that it built part of the roving probe, and names a car after the mission or the asteroid, the increase in sales could add up to a comparable amount to the video rights. The outgoing rocket should have company advertising logos on it like a race car and the walls of sportsfields, every video transmission should have the logos of the consortium companies along the border of the transmission, and mission personnel and equipment in the videos should have company logos on them as well.
Additional income can come from licensing trademark rights to use the mission name for toys, computer games, etc., and for product endorsements by the new superstars.
Notably, whatever trademarkable name you use, make sure it's defendable in court. First of all, this is a good place where I should credit the Artemis Project lunar mission for best publicizing this income source (though others have done so before them in this community). However, if someone were to use "Artemis" in a space related toy or product, and the abovementioned Artemis took them to court, it's questionable whether the court would uphold any kind of trademark claim on "Artemis", the name of the twin sister of Apollo. Don't let parasites undercut your support (as I've already advised the Artemis people who unfortunately chose that name several years ago).
Also, look at the value of a few of the USA sports professionals' contracts: Golfer Tiger Woods got a $40 million contract over 5 years with Nike to wear their logo and endorse their product. Michael Jordan gets $20 million per year from Nike for product endorsements. Basketball player Allen Iverson got a $50 million 5-year contract with Reebok. Basketball player Grant Hill got an $80 million 7-year contract with Italian shoe maker Fila. That's just in the sports shoe market, and that's mostly directed at the USA market. In the week this paragraph was written, Grant Hill visited the Philippines (where I was consulting to an engineering company) and 30,000 people (!!) showed up at one shopping mall to see him -- a basketball player in a country of short soccer players. Each one of these contracts to the individual basketball players is worth more than the less-than-$50-million cost of NEAP. Any company name(s) behind the project would gain immense enhancement of name recognition and perceived value and status of all their regular products across the board in stores around the world. Every company that makes any component on the probe stands to gain from advertising, not only to male sports fans in the USA but to all people of all genders and practical buying habits all over the world.
One may note on the WWW sites of some private space mission scenarios that one of their sponsors is a beef jerky company, which may surprise some people as being a company unrelated to space. However, recall that Tang (powdered orange drink) sales shot sky high when it launched its product in the 1960s space program with a picture of the astronauts in space using their product. Beef jerky or a similar dehydrated protein product (like the dried seafood commonplace in Asia) are appropriate for space missions, and a common snack on convenience store shelves. Indeed, imagine the ubiquitous 7-11 convenience store chain staking a sign on an asteroid, perhaps with a small solar cooker for making the first hot dogs on another planetoid, for the astronauts. Or Nike coming out with a stylish asteroid age shoe to be the first private commercial product to set foot on another planetoid, with the footprint in the regolith with logo shown on the commercial. Other commercials can be taken using the crew and the first base.
When the asteroidal material comes back to Earth orbit, the company owns the material and access to it. The scientific data on the material is valuable and of course sellable. The patents developed from experimentation with this material and orbit-based industry will be valuable. Anyone wanting to experiment in industrial processes (e.g., in partnership) will have to pay. Samples of material can be sold ... including to high class consumers on Earth.
(Notably, the only verified sample of lunar material ever sold to date, a mere 200 milligrams of lunar material from the Soviet Luna-24 mission, went for $442,000 via Sotheby's Auction House in New York. (paper ref.). Some argued that a more widely publicized media event would have brought more money. In view of Mission 1, it could be part of an overall media program. The value of lunar soil has led to the creation of a company, Harvest Moon, Inc., to bring back a 10 kg sample from the moon using existing Earth launch capability (paper ref.) though it has not been successful to date in arranging financing. No other revenue sources besides selling lunar soil to collectors is mentioned at all by Harvest Moon.
More media footage can be sold as the asteroid materials drama continues to unfold in orbit over time, and while multinational deals are made on Earth, with possible strengthening of their stocks value over time.
Eventually, products can be sold in space, e.g., fuel propellants, bulk radiation shielding, structural beams, and so on, produced from this material. You really have to be pretty dense to not be able to make first-generation low-risk decent-value products from asteroidal material using a minimum of general-purpose industrial equipment with flexible design.
The rendezvous and extraction equipment used for the first mission can be reused for a second mission -- sold or leased out. It's already in high Earth orbit -- no need to relaunch new hardware, so that a Mission 2 would cost substantially less.
Keeping it simple, keeping it cheap
The mission to the asteroid just needs to collect material, put it in a big bag, and tug it back to Earth. Like Apollo 11, the #1 mission objective is "mission accomplished", nothing too fancy. Indeed, it should not be too sophisticated. Apollo 11 basically landed, set foot, dug up some local materials, put it into bags, and came back.
If we want to minimize the cost of the mission, we can take a risk and send only enough fuel propellant to return the astronauts and a small sample of material in the case of a mission abort, along with equipment to produce fuel propellants at the asteroid using asteroidal material (equipment which would be discarded in case of mission abort) in case things go as planned. Any fuel propellant we cook out of the asteroid can be used to return additional bulk sample material. Place your bets in stock and legal lotteries now. A solar (or nuclear) oven and simple vapor collection equipment should be sufficient to collect enough fuel propellant from the asteroid for the return trip of a very large collection of asteroidal material. Propellant extraction by heating is very simple technology. (And even if it were not to produce much propellant, the mission would still be profitable...)
We could simply break off a chunk of the asteroid by sending a few lightweight handheld explosives, and return this big chunk. Or the astronauts could go with simple shovels and bags to collect big samples from around the asteroid. A variety of simple and lightweight collection means can be sent, and the astronauts can use whatever appears best suited for the task upon their arrival without wasting much weight in unused equipment. The collected sample can be wrapped in a big bag to prevent orbital debris from floating away once it reaches Earth orbit.
Once in high Earth orbit, a lightweight inflatable bag can be put around the asteroid to create working space while containing all loose material created by experimenting with various processes.
Why a manned mission to an asteroid?
The large increase in expense for a manned mission would be more than offset by the increase in value. First of all, a manned mission would be able to accomplish far more - we just don't have the robotics technology that can replace humans, in terms of adaptability and versatility. Secondly, a manned mission would bring in far more money by product endorsements and media footage.
Using Russian manned space program hardware and labor like the Soyuz, Salyut and their derivatives, it would seem significantly more economical and feasible in the relative near-term than using American manned mission capability which has priced itself far out of the market in this two-entity market. Another option is to boost a Mir module to the asteroid. People spend a lot of time going around in circles in Earth orbit. Why not spend that time in transit to an asteroid rather than just going nowhere around Earth?
There is also no substitute for man over tele-robot when it comes to communications for prospecting an asteroid up to several light-minutes away, and dealing with the material in hand.
While manned missions are risky, computers and unmanned missions are even riskier. Look at the failures of Phobos 1 and Phobos 2, as well as Clementine 1. Put a man in the loop on-site and things would have been engineered and happened differently. Look at all the limitations of the Pathfinder rover on Mars, plus the software bugs that dogged it.
Nothing comes close to the human mind for adaptability, flexibility and creativity, at this point in time and in fact for the next 20 years. A manned mission now is justified. If we're going to be successful, we need to do it right. Forget the penny pinching robotics bean-counters who think "small is beautiful", we need to look at making more money and "bigger is better". The human value of a media event can give us the necessary money to support a manned mission plus give us extra money to reinvest.
With a couple of men, we could bring back one hell of a payload to high Earth orbit and probably do some in-situ processing for oxygen, water and propellants which could extend their stay and help bring back huge samples for industry to play with in orbit. Let them decide on-site, and let the drama play out.
This private sector scenario with the Russians would put the bureaucratized International Space Station and other porkbarrel government projects into their proper place.
As Dr. John S. Lewis quipped, the asteroids will once again make a lot of old dinosaurs extinct, this time in the government bureaucracy!
Who will be the one to "just do it"?
First, as covered above, it will not be a government. Governments are not set up to do commercialization, governments are too slow and bureaucratic (especially after the end of the Cold War), and there are too many already-entrenched competing interests fighting over a shrinking pie of government money. Forget NASA, ESA or the Russian or Japanese space agencies.
Secondly, I do not think it will be a big aerospace company, nor an already-established stock company with a sizeable board of directors. Those companies already have their limited investment dollars plugged into their own internal projects which their company has a natural advantage in developing, and competing internal interests. I think you would not be successful in getting their board of directors nor majority of voting stock owners to make them invest large amounts of money into asteroid resources utilization for reasons of conservatism and guaranteed (low risk) profits in other areas. It's difficult to get boards of directors to agree to do such things, and on how to do them.
What I think will be a successful is a joint venture between wealthy individuals, or even one wealthy entity who may rule by decree. There already exist a number of individuals and families with enough money in their pockets to fund a mission, to own the company and rule it by decree, and to successfully develop asteroidal real estate and space properties (both natural and manmade).
For example, there are many individuals and families wealthy by oil money. Offshore exploration platforms generally cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars (as compared to the less than $50 million for the upcoming private sector asteroid probe by SpaceDev/Jim Benson). When you invest in an offshore wildcat platform, you run the risk of getting a dry hole -- finding nothing and losing all your money. In fact, roughly half of them do not find economically exploitable amounts of oil or gas and are written off as total losses. On the other hand, an asteroid is guaranteed to provide valuable materials already in space, not give you a dry hole.
A company set up to claim asteroid real estate and develop space properties could attract this money.
What we need is someone with enough money to get the company started well, and good presentation and marketing people. I'm willing to help with the script writing and marketing efforts, but it will take teamwork.
I'm convinced that anyone with enough money and charisma could become the private sector's JFK in this era, and can go down in history in the same way. Anyone else besides JFK who said we could send men to the moon and return them safely within the decade, at a time when our space program was at such a primitive stage, would have been laughed off the podium and ridiculed in the press. But not JFK with his charisma, self-confidence and credibility. That is great leadership. It's interesting to read that whole speech. It conveys that JFK knew what we were up against in basic technology needs, but also shows his confidence in the best people. His book Profiles in Courage is also worthwhile reading. For those who don't know, JFK announced the goal of landing on the Moon before the decade was over -- back when the US space program had hardly even rocketed a man above the Earth's atmosphere and before the computer revolution. Indeed, the lunar landing was done 100% manually because no computers could keep up with the landing needs in 1969.
Our technical challenge now, 38 years after JFK's speech, is quite trivial in comparison to the challenges back then. More importantly, the opportunity to get our species off the planet is here and now, for the first one to take it. Your chance is now or never. You either "just do it now" or else become a "Monday morning quarterback" (American slang for the loser who looks back at history at what they should have done).
For this risky mission, the odds are on our side. We're sure to make at least some money on it even if many things go wrong, and potentially could make enormous amounts of money over time if things go fairly well.
As always, it's up to a leader or organization truly courageous enough to embark upon a new kind of venture, rather than wait and see what others do and then try to play catchup. There is immense value in being the willing first investor -- the one who will just do it, and one who is certain to go into the history books as such, rather than the wait and see arrogant type (usually sitting on someone else's laurels). (Even if the mission were to fail somehow, going down in history would still be assured.)
If I had the money, I would. Unfortunately, I have only know-how, not that amount of money.
A good analogy - the PC and Microsoft
For an analogy of the value of being the first, using basic technology, rather than going later with refined technology: MS-DOS was one of the simplest computer operating systems of the 1980s, scoffed at by computer experts due to its utter lack of features and poor foresight compared to alternatives that existed around that time (e.g., Unix, Macintosh, Commodore Amiga's DOS). In fact, this DOS had been originally created for one company's internal applications, not intended for the mass market. However, a young man named Bill Gates who was brilliant at business and marketing his company, and aware that IBM in Texas was coming out with a basic PC, was aware of this DOS because it was in his neighborhood in Seattle, and saw that it had one big advantage over the alternatives: it was available in the near term with minor modifications in order to run on the small PC that IBM wanted to test in the marketplace (a PC so basic that ultimately it wasn't patentable, hence the clones...). Better is the enemy of good enough, and Bill Gates laughed at the scoffers while he was in line at the bank. About 15 years later he had bootstrapped enough to make software decent enough to rival the best in the business -- the Windows platforms vs. the Macintosh and indeed vs. Unix itself.
The decision was made by IBM to use MicroSoft's DOS (MS-DOS) rather than lose time creating their own operating system software (eventually developed and called IBM-DOS and PC-DOS at different times) or buying into others' more sophisticated software development proposals. Practically everyone thought MS-DOS would be around for only a few years due to its inadequacies, to be replaced with a bigger and better operating system to be created by IBM when the '286 came out (i.e., scheduled obsolescence). Many very conservative people weren't even sure if the PC market would prove worthy of much further investment, or how lucrative it would be at that point in history, given the cost and lack of much demand for a computer at home. The market was certainly not proven at the time, there were countless skeptics, and the cheap, existing 8088 chip by a small company called Intel was all that IBM was willing to pay for given the perceived risk. There were better CPU chips by more established companies, albeit more expensive, but IBM just wanted something as quick and cheap as possible. (It still cost several thousand dollars for a PC with no hard disk and a monochrome monitor. Indeed, MS-DOS initially did not support a hard disk.)
We all know the rest of the surprise story -- MS-DOS launched the world's most profitable and successful company today, Microsoft, followed not far by Intel (which had to bootstrap during the 1980s with its massive profits before it came out with a technically better CPU than its competitors). These are facts few people can argue with. These companies were extremely successful simply because MS-DOS and the Intel 8088 were the first, albeit basic, components for the IBM clone personal computer market, and the decision was made to just use what already existed rather than wait for the proper computer operating system and a more developed CPU for a personal computer.
Later companies, e.g., Apple, Commodore/Amiga, Wang, makers of various descendants of Unix; and far superior CPU's such as those from Motorola came around with vastly superior products, but they were too late, and were left to just hurl sophisticated insults at MicroSoft and Intel while many of them ran into the red as MicroSoft and Intel soared in the green. The others had far better quality, but Microsoft and Intel had adequate quality for getting the job done.
I've received a lot of e-mail on the Bill Gates/Microsoft analogy since posting this. The messages go something like this: I risk alienating a lot of people who are fed up with Microsoft's monopolistic, ruthless business practices, its poor responsiveness to certain desired product features, and its lack of support for third party industry standards. One person stated I was criticizing my visitors' views and making my visitors "guilty by association". Truly, I've thought and felt the same about Microsoft from time to time, too. I don't like monopolies when there are workable alternatives. But that's not the point. The point is that the first entity to develop a new frontier reaps tremendous advantages over others, and people should think twice about playing "wait and see" or making arrogant statements that we should use better technology. Also, a big monopoly in the human frontier could happen again. The only way to prevent it is to by helping to create competition. Monopolies happen because others didn't do a very good job (e.g., IBM OS/2, many versions of Unix, Desqview). As JFK said, what's more important is what you're for, not what you're against. Action, not words.
(Notably, one thing that's good is the fact that Microsoft and Intel established standards for writing software and making hardware -- nearly by decree. There are user benefits to that, not just supplier benefits. There may be similar such standards in space. It's also interesting to note that "IBM compatible" really means Intel-Microsoft compatible. IBM has lost money in the PC business because they went forward without a complete committment -- they thought the PC market was too risky and unproven in 1979, so they came out with the Intel-Microsoft computer which was so basic it was unpatentable and hence clonable. IBM makes its billions on big mainframe computers, not personal computers. Microsoft and Intel are the big beneficiaries of the PC market, two companies which were not so great on the list of software and CPU makers in the late 1970s. IBM tried to get the PC business back by changing their PC hardware in 1987 to something patentable, hence the significantly different, better, "new IBM standard" called the "PS/2", but these PS/2 IBM PC's were not "IBM compatible" by the established industry standard. IBM also came out with a superior operating system called "OS/2" which ran on Intel clone computers, but even that didn't knock out MS-DOS or Windows. Despite its size, budget and clout, IBM could not reestablish itself in the personal computer market. IBM paid the price for lack of risktaking, foresight and committment in the speculative PC market around 1980, suffering throughout the 1980s and 1990s in the PC market. Major aerospace companies today could follow the same fate, left behind to producing airplanes and defense weapons in a limited world.)
Some messages have said they're not going to let space be monopolized, darn it!, in various other loud e-mail ways. Yet, they haven't been willing to do anything positive, either as a volunteer for PERMANENT or in their own business to the best of my knowledge. And I bet that most of them will buy the superior services from Gates' Teledesic satellite constellation when it goes up, rather than from an inferior Teledesic competitor, yet continue to complain about Gates.
Who knows, perhaps it will take a Bill Gates or another monopoly to go another step and make our species immortal with an asteroid business monopoly and company suburbs in orbital space ... if you don't. I'm not going to try to stop them, but I can help others compete if they act on the opportunity in front of their nose... As for myself, in the absence of a huge offer with a confidentiality contract by a serious investor who I am convinced will succeed in colonizing space single-handedly, I'm currently holding out and keeping every entity on their toes. If you, too, want to benefit from my off-the-record experience and sensitive assessments, then you'll have to buy my time, and I'll have to agree. I'll need to know where you really are, from basic to strategic, and your interests and current abilities. Other wise, I wish you the best. It will take either a big company with an autocratic ruler, or a stock company with a great leader who can command bureaucracy and deadwood conservatism.
Why the large aerospace corporates won't or can't
Many people say that the big aerospace companies like Boeing and Lockmart will eventually get into the field and blow away the little guys. However, that is unlikely. First, it doesn't take nearly as much money as people think to start mining asteroids near Earth -- we don't need this to be a Boeing or Lockmark enterprise. Secondly, those companies are very conservative, and it's unlikely that their boards of directors will agree to such a speculative venture. At the very least, they would be exceedingly slow in proceeding along these lines. More likely, they will be suppliers to a small third party entity who will simply purchase some of their services, cash on the barrelhead, e.g., making the rockets to deploy the equipment into low Earth orbit. Third, these companies have other projects that they will invest their available cash in for low risk, short term payback, pushed hard by interest groups within the company, and competing with other internal interest groups for money. They have natural advantages in certain areas of the market, and in these areas they have huge profit margins and little competition. This is what their stockowners and boards work on seriously, for investing their available R&D money.
However, it is well known that they and other entities have taken note. All you have to do is attend a conference on lunar and asteroidal materials utilization and see who else is attending. For example, I have the list of the 459 attendees of the highly technical 1998 conference on space operations in which the vast majority of the research papers were on developing nonterrestrial resources and large space systems. Interestingly, most of the big company attendees were just information collectors, not presenters of research information. Most of the papers presented were government funded and thus required to be put out in the public domain, not kept company secret.
It is possible that Boeing and Lockmart will offer to buy new, small companies developing space resources. It will be up to you whether you want to sell your company.
Make no mistake about it: The space race is on, and the profits will be immense. Look at all the opportunities, elements, and angles presented by PERMANENT freely to the public, and join in.
You can call this First Mission a high publicity "stunt" if you wish. And you can hurl insults at Bill Gates and Microsoft ad nauseum. But the First PERMANENT Mission stunt is useful, and it's a way for a small entity to get a major head start like Mr. Nobody of 1979 -- Bill Gates.
Some rich individual or moderately sized company or consortium could put the first private sector astronauts on a purely private launch out of Russia or the US.
Whoever does this had better be able handle the publicity they're certain to receive. We can help in that regard as well.
Contrary to what some technocratic researchers will say, this is not such an overwhelming challenge. Consider when JFK said we were going to the Moon in the early 1960s, when we had hardly yet done anything in space. We were still reacting to Sputnik and Russia. The first decent sized rocket was still years away, and the first commercial communications satellite was hardly imagined except in science fiction. Computers hardly existed. (Recall, the Apollo 11 lunar landing was done more manually than anticipated because the on-board computers failed miserably - the danger beeping in the background of the audio -- as the computers of that time couldn't keep up speed-wise with the basic navigation needs as the lander approached the moon's surface. The Russian robotic landers failed to land and bring a sample back prior to Apollo -- the Russian landers racing with Apollo to bring back the first lunar sample crashed with the Moon because their on-board computing power was not good enough.)
Sending a couple of people to an asteroid today with shovels, sticks of dynamite, a solar oven, and a few other simple items is trivial in comparison. Something along the lines of the Microsoft-Intel "good enough" model.
In the following private sector ventures, it is to be expected that they would not reveal much of their plans. Those would be proprietary. However, those who also engage in government funded and contracted research and development (e.g., Shimizu Corp.) are required to release their results to the general public, which is reasonable since it's been paid for by taxpayer dollars which they receive from elected representatives.