US company aims to 'harvest' asteroids

Jan 22, 2013
This NASA image obtained on January 31, 2012 and taken by NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission in 2000, shows a close-up view of the asteroid Eros. A US company said Tuesday it plans to send a fleet of spacecraft into the solar system to mine asteroids for metals and other materials in the hopes of furthering exploration of the final frontier.

A US company said Tuesday it plans to send a fleet of spacecraft into the solar system to mine asteroids for metals and other materials in the hopes of furthering exploration of the final frontier.

"Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent ," said David Gump, chief executive of Deep Space Industries, noting that more than 900 new asteroids that pass near our planet are discovered each year.

"In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy."

In a first step, the company plans to send "asteroid-prospecting spacecraft" into the solar system, with the first—55-pound (25-kilogram) ""—to be launched in 2015 on journeys of two to six months.

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Deep Space Industries Live Announcement

These will be followed as of 2016 by heavier 70-pound "" that will go on two- to four-year missions and bring back samples.

"This is the first commercial campaign to explore the small asteroids that pass by Earth," said Deep Space Chairman Rick Tumlinson.

"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."

If all goes according to plan, Deep Space Industries predicts that, in a decade, it will be harvesting metals and other building materials from to build large platforms to replace —followed by solar power stations that would beam carbon-free energy back to Earth.

"We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there," Tumlinson said in a statement that also made a pitch for customers and sponsors.

"We are squarely focused on giving new generations an opportunity to change not only this world but all the worlds of tomorrow. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?"

Deep Space Industries is the second company to enter into the -mining business, following in the footsteps of Planetary Resources, which launched in April 2012 with the backing of top Google executives and film director James Cameron.

Explore further: Europe launches last resupply ship to space station

More information: Press release

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User comments : 31

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be4r
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 22, 2013
Inb4 a bunch of naysayers try to ruin my hopes for the future of space exploration.
GSwift7
3.5 / 5 (17) Jan 22, 2013
Plantary Resources seems to be well on the way to being funded already, and sounds credible. This guy is only writing science fiction unless he can get funding somewhere.

One thing I wonder about with asteroid and comet mining is whether you would need to decontaminate the materials of radiation before they would be safe. If you're building anything that people are going to be around, you wouldn't want to use radio actively contaminated metals.

Initially, I can see a demand for fuels, water, air, etc. but nobody is building anything in space that would need raw metals yet.

There's also the huge engineering challenge of processing anything in space. Without gravity, you can't refine with the same methods we use here. All your storage tanks, pumps, etc would need to be designed from scratch to work in zero G.
MachinegunDojo
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2013
There's also the huge engineering challenge of processing anything in space. Without gravity, you can't refine with the same methods we use here. All your storage tanks, pumps, etc would need to be designed from scratch to work in zero G.


Somehow I got more excited about this while reading your post than before!
VendicarD
2 / 5 (13) Jan 22, 2013
Within a decade they will have absconded with their investors money and have nothing to show for it, except some lines drawn on some fancy documents.

"Deep Space Industries predicts that, in a decade," - Article

It is idiocy from the word go. Like announcing an immediate bigfoot expedition to the moon to return the beast's hoard of gold.

Anyone who gets "excited" about this nonsense needs to develop a foot licking fetish so that they can have an excuse to seek psychatric treatment.

They are yammering nonsense about launching probes to asteroids within 2 years, and their ships will be called "fireflies".

Next week they will probably announce that some chick named "river" is going to be "piloting" them.

http://www.youtub...i1ZvCNzA
la7dfa
not rated yet Jan 22, 2013
Technology treshold are the key words. We are probably not there yet, but in a few decades our robots will be crawling around many places in the solar system. Personally I look more forward to the future science missions of e.g. NASA.
philw1776
3 / 5 (4) Jan 22, 2013
Meteors aren't "radioactive" so asteroids and comets aren't either.
VendicarD
2.1 / 5 (7) Jan 22, 2013
No thinking person believes that NASA is going to outlive the U.S.

"Personally I look more forward to the future science missions of e.g. NASA." - La7dfa

Why do you?
jonnyboy
1.7 / 5 (12) Jan 22, 2013
keep hiding Scott.
Shabs42
5 / 5 (3) Jan 22, 2013
It is idiocy from the word go. Like announcing an immediate bigfoot expedition to the moon to return the beast's hoard of gold.


This analogy would only work if we knew that Bigfoot was on the moon and was hoarding gold. In which case damn straight we need to get that treasure from that greedy old Sasquatch.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2013
US company aims to 'harvest' asteroids
USA cannot manage even the ISS maintenance at the 220 km altitude... For what the asteroids should be good for?
alex_fantastico
5 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2013
There's also the huge engineering challenge of processing anything in space. Without gravity, you can't refine with the same methods we use here. All your storage tanks, pumps, etc would need to be designed from scratch to work in zero G.


"The company has developed a 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry that can transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts. It is designed to operate in microgravity Earth-orbit conditions." From an article on telegraph.co.uk about the same topic.
VendicarD
2.1 / 5 (7) Jan 22, 2013
This would be the first product the company has ever produced to my knowledge.

Where was it tested? Where will they get the metal? How will they purify it? How will they dig it? How will they transport it to the printer? And how well they get the fuel to fly it back to earth?

They have developed NOTHING of course.

"The company has developed a 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry" - Telegraph

SCAM.

VendicarD
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 22, 2013
Eric_B
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 23, 2013


well, it has been pretty well established that the Moon has significant voids in it just waiting to be lined with tanks of water and living quarters.

Since the economy of the future will not be owned by the Dis-United States, it will be China that builds habitation there.

Good Night, America!
despinos
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 23, 2013
Maybe in the 22Th century asteroid mining will be economically wise.
Meanwhile, it's 10.000 times cheaper to mine earth resources.

Investors will be ripped of their resources.
Mr. Cameron, don't through your money away, please, use it to fund other wonderful movies
despinos
1 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2013
repeated comment
alfie_null
5 / 5 (4) Jan 23, 2013
USA cannot manage even the ISS maintenance at the 220 km altitude...

If you've been looking for the ISS at 220 km, you won't find it there.

Disregarding that error, how are you dissatisfied with the maintenance? The fact that we rarely hear of maintenance issues says to me otherwise.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (5) Jan 23, 2013
Maybe in the 22Th century asteroid mining will be economically wise.
Meanwhile, it's 10.000 times cheaper to mine earth resources.

Investors will be ripped of their resources.
Mr. Cameron, don't through your money away, please, use it to fund other wonderful movies

Given the choice of pretending to live in a fantasy land for a couple more hours vs. contributing to an effort to move our species forward into space, I'd happily choose the latter.

Figuring out how to do things in space is hard, and most of the efforts to learn how will largely be failures. Thus, lots of people will lose money. So bear that in mind when you choose to invest. But don't just assume all these efforts are nothing more than a scam.
Egleton
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 23, 2013
Civilization is about to hit the wall.
There is only one way out of this cul-de-sac. Straight up.
Don't like it? Don't have to.
Lurker2358
1.8 / 5 (9) Jan 23, 2013
A US company said Tuesday it plans to send a fleet of spacecraft into the solar system to mine asteroids


*sigh*.

At least someone's trying, but they have the wrong idea.

Launching "Fleets" of spacecraft is exactly what they should be attempting to avoid.

They need to be developing the space-based refining technologies (which they admittedly can't do without an experimental vessel). And they need to be developing space-based production facilities for robotics and RAW MATERIAL cargo-grade ship production in space, not on Earth.

The idea is to launch as close to nothing from Earth as possible.

The repeated, cumulative launch costs of "Fleets" of ships would quickly eat up the entire profit margin if they attempt to do this in ANY way similar to what NASA or other private space agencies have done.

2001 had it right. Self replication is the key, and does not necessarily require nano-technology, just good macro technology.
Lurker2358
1.9 / 5 (9) Jan 23, 2013
"The company has developed a 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry that can transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts. It is designed to operate in microgravity Earth-orbit conditions." From an article on telegraph.co.uk about the same topic.


Assuming this is true and not a scam, how will they actually mine the materials from the asteroid?

From what I've seen, Gold and Platinum appear mostly in metallic asteroids, but metallic asteroids are largely, as the name says, a monolithic piece of iron and nickel. They will need lasers of enormous power to cut this, because conventional tools will break down due to over heating, since you can't dissipate heat fast enough in vacuum to use conventional drills or cutting tools.

In order to produce enough power to operate a cutting laser large enough to be useful, they'd need nuclear power, or they'd need a solar farm of perhaps megawatts equivalent, since there's much more than just the laser itself to power...
GSwift7
3.4 / 5 (10) Jan 23, 2013
The company has developed a 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry that can transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts


No they haven't. They have an idea and a patent request. They do not have a machine that works yet, nor do they have a way to harvest nickel from an asteroid to use in this proposed machine. I looked up articles on the Microgravity Foundry. In the proposed design they need a source of molecularly pure nickel vapor. I wonder how they plan to get the nickel out of an asteroid?

They are probably on the right track with 3d printing, but they have skipped the important prerequisites; mining and processing the raw materials. That is heavy industrial work which will require extensive mechanical maintenance on the equipment. I don't see how they can do that without people, and that opens a huge can of worms for cost.

I'll be impressed if they manage to drill sample cores and return them to Earth.
GSwift7
3.4 / 5 (10) Jan 23, 2013
because conventional tools will break down due to over heating, since you can't dissipate heat fast enough in vacuum to use conventional drills or cutting tools.

In order to produce enough power to operate a cutting laser large enough to be useful, they'd need nuclear power,


Using a laser would not eliminate the thermal problem. No matter what you do, you need to melt the asteroid material in order to process it. Doesn't matter whether you use electricity, lasers, or chemical fuel. You still have to melt significant quantities of asteroid in order to refine it. How do you melt the ore without melting your spacecraft? It's going to take a huge radiator to dissipate waste heat, and your spacecraft will need to be physically shielded from that radiator. The only way around this is to go very slowly and only deal with very small amounts of material. If you de-spin the roid then you could work in the shadow, but that's only a partial solution.
BikeToAustralia
2 / 5 (4) Jan 23, 2013
Cannibalize old satellites. Keep everything that is out in space there, it is cheaper. Every test of sample can be done 'on site'. Just like any beginning, start, learn from mistakes and keep going. But you have to start first.

Our relatively new abilities to place atoms and molecules precisely makes many old impossibilities now possible. Heat dissipation from heat sinks doubling as sterling engines AND solar panels? Just a thought, if someone does not Start and Try, then indeed, everything is an impossible dream.

Small, relatively inexpensive robots self-replicating on asteroids and our moon.. Sigh, I pray I live to see people permanently living in space. Then, we can make mistakes in space without jeopardizing our only home. Robots in space making fatal mistakes sounds even better.

We get out there and do Anything, we will learn Something worthwhile from doing something new.
LagomorphZero
1 / 5 (2) Jan 23, 2013
Article: "We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there," I think this is a very true statement.

Regardless of the current feasability of their endeavour, I think they are at least trying to shoot in the right direction, and in that I approve of their attempt.

Though as many commenters have commented, it would be more appropriate to start with some of the smaller problems such as zero-G mining, or refining.
sender
1 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2013
Man zee harpoons!
Pkunk_
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 26, 2013
In the proposed design they need a source of molecularly pure nickel vapor. I wonder how they plan to get the nickel out of an asteroid?

If it's science fiction you are looking for , the technique was covered quite well in "Live Free or die" . Quite simply, use a lot of huge lenses and mirrors and you can focus the energy of the Sun onto a very small area like a metallic asteroid. Spin it up a bit and given enough concentrated sunlight it will diffract itself into different layers for every metal which can then be extracted one layer at a time. Of course it sounds crazy but it's doable.
I'll be impressed if they manage to drill sample cores and return them to Earth.

While i'm doubtful if their "firefly's" will actually "take off" , the technology isn't impossible to develop if you have enough funding. And it's new frontiers like these which will be the next "big thing" and lead to real growth. The Internet and computers are now everywhere and have run their course.
SteveL
not rated yet Jan 27, 2013
For a foundry solar thermal is the way to go, and with the least amount of maintenance required. I've worked in heavy equipment maintenance for most of my life and complexity is one of the things you really want to avoid if you expect reliability. Maintenance in space is very slow and very, very costly.

It can take weeks, even months to get parts to the USA from Germany or Japan. Just imagine the lead time, and expense, from earth to space. That's a lot of down time.
antonima
1 / 5 (1) Jan 27, 2013
Quite simply, use a lot of huge lenses and mirrors and you can focus the energy of the Sun onto a very small area like a metallic asteroid. Spin it up a bit and given enough concentrated sunlight it will diffract itself into different layers for every metal which can then be extracted one layer at a time. Of course it sounds crazy but it's doable.


I was thinking exactly this! An issue may be that the metal doesn't stick to itself nearly as well as water does, due to the lack of hydrogen bonds. If its an electrically conductive metal it may be easier to put an electric charge on it and fraction it that way, if that is an option in space. Something tells me you don't want to collect too much static electricity on a spacecraft!
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.3 / 5 (13) Jan 27, 2013
Maintenance in space is very slow and very, very costly.
Maintenance in space will be done by robots and will be cheap as there is no gravity to work against.
It can take weeks, even months to get parts to the USA from Germany or Japan. Just imagine the lead time, and expense, from earth to space. That's a lot of down time.
Space machines will be designed with massive redundancy, as the article implies. Most components and assemblies will be manufactured in totally automated facilities somewhere off-planet.

Due to an abundance of free energy, and the absence of gravity, moisture, and an oxidizing atmosphere, manufacturing in space should ultimately be much easier and cheaper.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Jan 27, 2013
I think it would be cool to send some type of nanobots to an asteroid, have them replicate themselves exponentially using the resources on the asteroid, then "assimilate" the asteroid, turning it into spacecraft or space stations. At the end, you'd have your craft with a pile of waste material floating right next to it. Of course, way beyond our capability as of now, but I think it is the best way to make large space craft. Let little bots assemble it over 5 or 10 years.