A small Tucson-area observatory is helping explore the business of mining the asteroids.
The Winer Mobile Observatory is headquartered south of the city. Staffers there are working with Trans Astra Corporation to test its Sutter Telescope System, designed to detect and track small, fast moving objects as they pass by Earth.
Trans Astra CEO Joel Sercel says big, expensive telescopes are not up to the task.
"There are thousands of asteroids that are really easy to get to in space but we just can't see them with today's telescopes, and we think the mineral wealth in these asteroids is in the trillions," he explained.
Winer Observatory founder Mark Trueblood notes his site provides a low-cost alternative for those searching the skies for individual research or business opportunities.
"We had a private individual, several universities, and currently most of our customers are university customers," Trueblood explained.
Trans Astra's Sutter Telescope was originally created to help Earth-bound prospectors conceptualize mining asteroids. But its designers say it can also track space junk and near-earth objects that can threaten communications and weather satellites.