Together, all of the asteroids in our Solar System add up to only about one hundredth the mass of Earth. Yet these asteroidal resources could support a population thousands of times greater than our home planet.
There are an estimated 1,000,000 asteroids in a wide range of orbits between Mars and Jupiter, most of these are rich, carbonaceous chondrites, full of the stuff of life.
A new asteroid-mining company, Deep Space Industries, Inc., announced at 10 a.m. today, Jan. 22 its plans to launch a commercial asteroid-prospecting spacecraft in 2015 with the goal of helping humanity expand across the solar system.
DSI says it will begin sending 55-pound (25 kilograms) "FireFly" spacecraft made from low-cost "cubesat" components on journeys of two to six months to explore asteroids and any objects that fly near Earth.
"This is the first commercial campaign to explore the small asteroids that pass by Earth," said Deep Space Chairman Rick Tumlinson (who signed up the world's first space tourist, led the team that took over the Mir space station, was a Founding Trustee of the X Prize, and Founded Orbital Outfitters, the world's first commercial space suit company.) "Using low cost technologies, and combining the legacy of our space program with the innovation of today's young high tech geniuses, we will do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago."
Next, a 70-pound (32 kg) spacecraft called "DragonFly" craft can be sent out and bring back samples between 2016 and 2020. Some samples will help the company determine mining targets, while others will probably be sold to researchers and collectors, officials said.
"The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers and other innovative ways to open the doors wide," Gump said. "The Google Lunar X Prize, Unilever and Red Bull each are spending tens of millions of dollars on space sponsorships, so the opportunity to sponsor a FireFly expedition into deep space will be enticing."
Deep Space Industries will also focus on extracting asteroid water, which can be broken down into its constituent oxygen, hydrogen and methane and used to refuel satellites once it has been brought back into the Earth.
Bringing back asteroid materials is only a step on the way to much bigger things for DSI. The company has a patent-pending technology called the MicroGravity Foundry to transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts. The MicroGravity Foundry is a 3D printer that uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, causing the nickel to be deposited in precise patterns.
(Images: Deep Space Industries)
"The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density, high-strength metal components even in zero gravity," company co-founder and MicroGravity Foundry inventor Stephen Covey said in a statement. "Other metal 3D printers sinter powdered metal, which requires a gravity field and leaves a porous structure, or they use low-melting point metals with less strength."
A large market for DSI is producing fuel for communications satellites. In a decade, Deep Space will be harvesting asteroids for metals and other building materials, to construct large communications platforms to replace communications satellites, and later solar power stations to beam carbon-free energy to consumers on Earth.
Deep Space is looking for customers and sponsors who want to be a part of creating this new space economy. The company believes that taking the long view, this project will become one of the economic engines that opens space to humanity.
"We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there," Tumlinson said. "This is the Deep Space mission — to find, harvest and process the resources of space to help save our civilization and support the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth — and doing so in a step-by-step manner that leverages off our space legacy to create an amazing and hopeful future for humanity.
We are squarely focused on giving new generations the opportunity to change not only this world, but all the worlds of tomorrow. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?"
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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