When Asteroid 2012-DA14 hurtles past Earth later this month in what counts as the closest of cosmic calls, US government scientists will be closely tracking its path from Nasa's observatory in the Californian desert.
Not least thanks to the attention of Hollywood, the world's interest in asteroid fly-bys has until now been focused on the danger of a cataclysmic collision.
But for aspiring asteroid miners, the lump of debris the size of a school gymnasium that will pass within 17,200 miles of the planet at 18,000mph - closer than many of the satellites circling the planet - symbolizes a new commercial opening on the final frontier.
It may sound more like science fiction than imminent reality, but two US companies have been outlining their plans to harvest asteroids for their mineral wealth in what they hope will be a 21st century solar system equivalent of terrestrial gold and oil rushes.
They intend to deploy tiny satellites to prospect asteroids and then effectively lasso their targets, transporting them back into Earth's orbit to harvest precious metals and liquids. If successful, they will also fuel a new chapter in human space exploration.
The newest entrant to the fast-developing asteroid mining world is Deep Space Industries, which has just unveiled ambitious plans to dispatch prospecting spacecraft in two years' time and begin extraction by 2020.
"It is exciting to be present at the beginning of the second space age led by commercial businesses," David Gump, Deep Space's chief executive, told The Sunday Telegraph.
"We want to start the process of living off the land in space. The biggest challenge for humanity expanding into space is the cost of launching material from the ground. If you can get the materials in space, that is a huge step towards expanding human civilization beyond Earth."
His company is now a competitor to Planetary Resources, which launched last year with an impressive roster of investors that includes Larry Page, the co-founder of Internet behemoth Google, Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, and James Cameron, the Oscar-winning film director and deep-sea explorer.
Under the leadership of Eric Anderson, who also co-founded Space Adventures, the company that took seven wealthy individuals to the International Space Station, Planetary Resources has just displayed a model of the miniature spacecraft-telescope that it will use to survey asteroids.
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