Deep Space Industries, a newly formed company, announced plans to launch the world's first fleet of asteroid-hunting spacecraft to search for space rocks that can be harvested for precious metals such as platinum and other resources. The one-way prospecting trips will begin in 2015, using three laptop-size spacecraft called FireFlies, each weighing about 55 pounds, that will take pictures and samples from selected Near-Earth asteroids. Beginning in 2016, larger spacecraft known as DragonFlies, weighing 70 lbs, will be sent on three- to four-year round trip missions to dig samples from asteroids and return them to Earth. The company estimates that 1 ton of asteroid material would be worth $1 million in orbit.
The samples will be studied and tested to make sure they can be conveted into valuable materials. By 2020, Deep Space hopes to get into commercial operation and begin producing materials to be used first in space. For example, water harvested from asteroids can be broken down to make rocket fuel to power communication satellites. Low-cost asteroid-derived fuel will extend the working lifetime of these technologies. For each satellite, one extra month is worth $5 million to $8 million.
Deep Space will also rely on a 3D printer called the Microgravity Foundry to help manufacture metal parts in space from pure asteroid. The machine can print high-strength nickel parts on demand, even in zero gravity. The printer can can take its own parts, grind them up, and recycle them into new parts, said Stephen Covey, a co-founder of DSI and inventor of the process.
The device can print heavy, massive tools in space, which can then be used in the manufacturing of space habitats, platforms and satellites. “Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” CEO David Gump said. “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 was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.”
Source: The Daily Galaxy via Deep Space Industries