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It’s been two and a half years since an historic landing took place between an European Space Agency drone and a comet.(which looked suspiciously a lot like an asteroid to us!) At that time a report from Deep Space Industries laid out their business plans up to 2020 and what they committed to sounded more like science fiction than fact. But it wasn’t and they’d already secured investors. Today’s announcement that NASA will soon begin hunting a nickel laden asteroid speaks volumes about not only the possibility of asteroid prospecting- but also to its inevitability.
Their plan was and still is to send an entire fleet of prospector spaceships to Near-Earth asteroids in order to harvest them for precious metals and other undisclosed resources. (space rubies anyone?). Starting in 2015, Deep Space Industries were to begin their operation by sending three small spacecraft called FireFlies to selected asteroids near earth for sample taking and photo reconnaissance. One year later, bigger craft called DragonFlies were to leave on four year missions to retrieve asteroid samples and bring them back to Earth. An ambitious project to be sure and not surprisingly, the timeline has been pushed back.
The most current press releases from DSI says that a precursor mission is scheduled to launch this year:
Recently, Deep Space Industries and its partner, the government of Luxembourg, announced plans to build and fly Prospector-X™, an experimental mission to low-Earth orbit that will test key technologies needed for low-cost exploration spacecraft. This precursor mission is scheduled to launch in 2017. Then, before the end of this decade, Prospector-1 will travel beyond Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mining exploration mission.
Assuming this is a successful venture, it will open the door for the next stage Prospector-1 mission.
What are the expected results?
Valuable materials exist in abundance in space and have strong economic potential. By 2020, using their tested indicators as investment attractors, Deep Space will move towards securing a commercial space operation and start into the next phase of its business plan. This involves concentrating firstly on processing rocket fuel from asteroid-harvested water. This fuel, harvested and processed in space will save millions of dollars, since existing communications satellites will no longer be ‘thrown away’ when their fuel supply has been used up. (Satellites that can longer ‘move’ and stay in orbit by using their rocket engines are left to slowly fall towards earth and burn up in the atmosphere ). Deep Space Industries past-CEO David Gump estimated that a satellite ‘refueled’ and saved from burn up is worth up to $8,000,000 per month. Those figures start to add up when you factor in the number of satellites in use and being launched every year. Another plan during this phase of their business operations is to return precious group metals such as platinum and gold back to earth. After all, if you’re splitting up asteroids and discover metal commodities, why not bring it back down to earth?
Deep Space believes that other metals harvested from asteroids also have an in-orbit value. They are developing the Microgravity Foundry- a type of 3D printer that will be used to fabricate and machine metal parts in space from pure asteroid metal such as high strength nickel parts.
Since this factory will operate in space and in zero gravity and produce parts in space, the idea of permanent space development and human habitation is economically feasible. Stephen Covey co-founder of Deep Space Industries and inventor of the Microgravity Foundry process: “What’s cool about the [3D] printer is that it can take its own parts, grind them up, and recycle them into new parts.”
Deep Space Industries past-CEO David Gump: “Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development. More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century- a key resource located near where it is needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.” Company estimates place a value of 1 ton of raw asteroid material at a worth of $1,000,000 [usd] in orbit. For the Silo, Jarrod Barker.
Updates: Deep Space Industries aligns with Luxembourg Government, applauds space commercialization policy.
Mexican commercial space company MXSpace partners with Deep Space Industries.
NASA hunting nickel 16 Psyche asteroid worth quadrillions of dollars.