Jump to content
The Official Site of the Vancouver Canucks
Canucks Community

New US company prospects 'Asteroid Mining'; manufacturing products in space


Recommended Posts


Private company plans to mine asteroids and manufacture products in space


The days of dreaming about space rock retail goods might not be too far away: a new start-up company from California plans to mine asteroids in order to make products for consumers that are literally out of this world.

During a press conference held Tuesday in Santa Monica, CA, Deep Space Industries announced plans to put a fleet of small asteroid-mining spacecraft into orbit. The group says they wish to get the project off the ground by 2015, and by the end of the decade they hope to have an arsenal of vehicles floating through space, scooping up asteroids to be used for manufacturing.

With the help of high-tech 3D printers and state-of-the-art technology that has suddenly become more affordable than ever, DSI hopes to be among the first of new companies that aims to make asteroid rocks all the rage.

“My smartphone has more computing power than they had on the Apollo moon missions,” DSI Chairman Rick Tumlinson said during this week’s announcement. “We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper and faster than ever before.”

“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,” he said, calling his project, “the first commercial campaign to explore the small asteroids that pass by Earth.”

Just last year, Planetary Resources, Inc. announced similar plans to put spacecraft into the sky and scope out precious metals to be used in manufacturing.

“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” the company’s co-founder said at the time.

But while Planetary Resource’s idea has failed to come to fruition just yet, DSI’s staffers seem optimistic that a second company in the market for mining atmospheric rocks might finally jumpstart an all new race to space.

"One company may be a fluke," Tumlinson said at Tuesday’s conference. "Two companies showing up, that's the beginning of an industry.”

DSI hasn’t announced exactly how much money it has to fund its project, or where it’s coming from, but has revealed other information about the 55lb “FireFly” spacecraft and what each one will be capable of doing while out in orbit. Equipped with MicroGravity Foundry 3D printers, DSI says their fleet of FireFly craft will be able mine precious rock and use the resources to make retail goods.

“The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density high-strength metal components even in zero gravity,” DSI co-founder Stephen Covey says 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.”

“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” added DSI CEO David Dump. “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.”

According to NBC News, FireFlies will ideally go into orbit in 2014, with three-to-four-year missions carried out by the slightly larger DragonFly craft coming the following year. Each one of those missions, claims DSI, will allow for up to 100 pounds of asteroids to be brought back to Earth.

“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,” said Tumlinson.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Asteroid Mining Becoming More Of A Reality

While we’ve become accustomed to seeing mining on asteroids in box-office blockbusters and sci-fi television shows, Deep Space Industries, known as DSI, is working towards making asteroid mining a reality.

DSI, a privately held space exploration company headquartered in McLean, Va., plans to launch two, 25-kilogram space probes named FireFly in 2015.


“The FireFlys are reconnaissance spacecrafts; they fly by targets and take close up images during the pass,” said David Gump, chief executive officer of DSI in a telephone interview with Kitco News. “The chief data that they will be able to give us is whether or not smaller asteroids are solid monoliths or whether they are rubble piles.”

Photographs taken to date by the company show asteroids that are made of rubble piles, essentially dirt and boulders held together by the asteroid’s gravity.

“Experts predict that if you go smaller down in sizes that someday if we might be able to retrieve, want to bring them back, they would have to be solid monoliths,” Gump said. “Obviously before you design your capture craft, you need to find out what you’re actually going to be presented with when you get there.”

DSI is looking for asteroids that are between 100 and 300 meters long.

After launching the FireFly probes in 2015, the company seeks to launch a larger craft, named DragonFly, in 2016 which will be able to return between 30 to 60 kgs of material to Earth.


“The next year we start sending out our DragonFlys, which are round-trip vehicles that can match orbits with an asteroid target and bring back a 50-kilogram sample to Earth for analysis,” Gump said.

Little is known in terms of what exact materials make up an asteroid. Gump said that Japan was able to bring back a few grains of asteroid material to study, but there is no substantial quantity to analyze.

“The kinds of ore bodies that they are varies tremendously, and all we really know for sure comes from the meteorites that we’ve collected on Earth is that they have gone through a tremendously disruptive entry into the atmosphere, where are the molecules have basically been burned away,” said Gump. “And we don’t really know what materials have been burned away. So, we have a very biased sample, so to speak, of meteorites to look at but we’ll be going out and sampling virgin asteroid material to find out what’s actually there.”

The company is looking at a broader approach than targeting specific metals within the asteroids, although DSI does have a commercial market in mind.

“Our main commercial market, we believe will be propellant for extending life of communication satellites in high geosynchronous orbit,” Gump said. “There are some asteroids that are high in water, methane and other hydrocarbons, while other asteroids are high in nickel-iron. Some of those have a relatively high concentration of gold, silver and platinum.”

Given the variety of asteroids passing Earth, Gump said utilizing the entire asteroid would be in the company’s best interest.

“Our analysis is that you’ll need to be able to extract value from the entire asteroid mass,” Gump said. “We don’t think it would make economic sense to only mine for PGMs and gold and silver.

“Utilizing the iron and the nickel and the tin for in-space application is lucrative,” he said. “So once you’ve built up a processing industry that’s turning asteroids into something useful for the in-space market, we can probably then extract gold, silver and PGMs for export to Earth. We believe it to be primarily as a by-product of an overall asteroid processing industry.”

While mining the millions of asteroids around Earth opens up a new area for the mining industry, questions arise regarding staking claims and owning property, or asteroids in this case, in space.

Gump said under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, nations cannot claim sovereignty in space but you can utilize the resources of space.

“In terms of asteroids, they’re not worth anything until a) you identify one with the right mix of resources that your particular market needs and you go through the effort of bringing it back from its current orbit back to stable orbit around Earth,” Gump said.

Bringing it back into an orbit where it can be more easily accessed is a relatively new idea as preconceived notions pointed to setting up an outpost on an asteroid and mining it while it was in orbit.

“That’s really difficult because they have orbital periods of anywhere from five to 50 years,” Gump said. “So if you put a mining outpost on an asteroid that won’t come back for 50 years, that’s a really difficult thing to justify economically.

“What’s happened in the last couple of years is finding the smaller ones that are physically possible to move and put them into a parking orbit near Earth where they just stay put either in high orbit just above geosynchronous orbit where satellites operate or by the moon or some other places where they’re easily available and you can mine them and process them at your leisure.”

Ultimately, Gump said there are two to three million asteroids of various sizes that pass by Earth and there’s a big solar system out there, so there’s no need to fight over which asteroids to mine.

As the company moves towards its goal of mining asteroids, Gump likens the process as similar to that of the mining industry here on Earth.

“This is similar to the terrestrial mining industry phases, you establish value by prospecting then you establish more value by test mining and that’s where we’re up to initially,” Gump said.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would be pretty cool to mine some unknown elements. Potential for huge technological advancements. Unless with that comes the opposite, like inviting back some freakish parasite or organism. Half the world could be like the Venom dude from Spiderman.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...