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Deep Space Industries announces asteroid mining plans

By

January 23, 2013

Artist's concept of a space settlement built from asteroid materials harvested by DSI (Ima...

Artist's concept of a space settlement built from asteroid materials harvested by DSI (Image credit: DSI)

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The asteroid mining business got a bit more crowded as a new concern called Deep Space Industries (DSI) enters the ring. The company announced its public launching at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, California where a panel presentation of officials and guests outlined DSI’s philosophy and plans for becoming a major force in opening up asteroid mining within a few years.

DSI, currently based in McLean, Virginia, was started mid-2012 and is currently seeking additional investors and customers. According to the panel, there are 9,500 near-Earth asteroids with 1,700 of these easier to get to than the Moon. The company believes that by keeping costs down and concentrating on creating a series of near-term returns it’s possible to make mining these asteroids not only feasible, but a business field capable of almost unlimited expansion.

Artist's concept of DSI's Firefly (Image credit: DSI)
Artist's concept of DSI's Firefly (Image credit: DSI)

The basic idea behind DSI is to start out very small and eventually grow into a major supplier of propellants and materials for space exploration and exploitation. DSI’s immediate plan is to carry out prospecting for possible candidates for mining and selling the data to governments and businesses.

Eventually, the company would expand into retrieving raw feedstock from asteroids and converting it into into air, water and propellant. The propellant could be supplied to geostationary communications satellites, a market DSI claims is currently worth US$25 million per ton due to the cost of transporting it from Earth.

Meanwhile, water, air and propellant would also be offered to the ISS and other space stations as well as to NASA and other space agencies engaged in deep space missions. To this would be added manufacturing of spare parts in space using asteroid materials and then much larger engineering operations and the extraction of precious metals.

DSI emphasizes that it isn’t in the business of launching satellites or building rockets, leaving that to other concerns. Rather, it intends to get its own satellites into orbit by sending up several at once in a piggyback operation with other satellite launches

Though DSI’s plans are ambitious, it will rely on using technologies and off the shelf components with small, standard interfaces and low costs. Its first probes will use cubesat technologies and be about the size of a laptop.

Artist's concept of DSI's Dragonfly (Image credit: DSI)
Artist's concept of DSI's Dragonfly (Image credit: DSI)

The first DSI spacecraft is the Firefly. According to a company spokesman, it will cost US$20 million to deliver three finished versions into orbit. Based on cubesat and nanosat design, its function is to target candidate asteroids based on value, return times and learning their composition, structure and spin rate.

The next craft is the Dragonfly. It’s job is asteroid capture and retrieval, though only as very small samples for study and processing experiments. The customers for these missions would be researchers and private collectors who’d probably buy a Moon rock if one came on the market.

Artist's concept of DSI's Harvestor (Image credit: DSI)
Artist's concept of DSI's Harvestor (Image credit: DSI)

The first really big DSI spacecraft is the Harvestor (sic), which is large enough to require a Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Proton or Ariane 5 rocket to lift it into space. It’s intended to bring back asteroids on a wholesale basis to the tune of thousands of tons per year, though the size of individual asteroids brought back to Earth orbit would be limited to about 30 meters (100 ft) in diameter for safety reasons.

Asteroids of that size routinely burn up in Earth’s atmosphere every year, so these wouldn't pose much of a hazard. These would be used for harvesting water, propellant, metals, and building and shielding materials. This would work in conjunction with the Fuel Refinery craft, which refines water and hydrocarbons found in carbonaceous asteroids.

One part of DSI’s plans is to fabricate spare parts and other items in orbit for customers. Toward this end, the Microgravity Foundry uses 3D printers to produce complex metal components using a simple process with few moving parts. It will fabricate structural parts, fasteners, gears, and other components to repair satellites and for larger projects, such as solar power satellites. The technology will also be licensed for Earthside use.

Though it sees its role as mainly one of providing materials and parts for other space-faring organizations, DSI also recognizes the potential of asteroid mining. It not only means greater abundance of precious and rare-earth metals for Earth, but also the building of solar power orbiters, cheaper Mars missions and space settlement. As part of this potential, the company said that it plans to forge a new partnership with the U.S. government and involve corporate marketers that will result in more public participation.

DSI anticipates the first Firefly flights taking place in 2015.

The video below outlines DSI’s plans.

Source: DSI

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
14 Comments

Why not lasso an asteroid and then tunnel into it and make it into a space ship. Aerodynamics in outer-space is not necessary but super thick shielding is. Mount propulsion devices on the periphery so that it can be controlled and then go to wherever you want.

Buellrider
24th January, 2013 @ 08:19 am PST

Agreed. You would then be mining materials as well as building a permanent habitat for later development as a tourist attraction.

Mark Keller
24th January, 2013 @ 10:24 am PST

It would be good to harvest an asteroid and use it, but where would we find one big enough, to harvest materials, use as a tourist attraction you would need to find a giant asteroid, these would be; one hard to find; and two hard to slow down and it would be dangerous. I think that that goal @Buellrider and @Mark Keller. would be a long term one; this one on the other hand would be good for as soon as it can, which is what this company is aiming for.

Cyprus
24th January, 2013 @ 07:33 pm PST

Thick material shielding is necessary only on a small ark the rest can be shielded by a strong magnetic field.

Slowburn
24th January, 2013 @ 09:27 pm PST

How about an inflatable bubble around the asteroid then harvest it.

Tom Haydon
24th January, 2013 @ 10:04 pm PST

Years ago I remember hearing that vacuum welding was a problem with spacecraft. Turning lemons into lemonade, you could use vacuum welding to create robotic welders in earth orbit for building more space ships from materials recovered from asteroids!

Larry Hooten
24th January, 2013 @ 10:13 pm PST

Mining companies continue to rape the planet, the potential and amount of available materials in space is unlimited

Trevor Wrn
25th January, 2013 @ 12:31 am PST

I'm sorry, but until the cost of getting us into orbit drops drastically I do not see this being profitable.

We do not even mine underwater and we have a long history of innovation in the submersible UAV area. And there is no launching cost to that....

While I love what Space X and a few others are doing, but they are just improving on technical and social systems that are already known (they are pushing NASA and the other bloated government space agencies to the periphery) to improve existing markets.

Until they have a major breakthrough that makes it cheap to get off this planet I feel the cost and complexity will be too much to overcome.

Just for example a space elevator or electromagnetic launch system would be good examples of technology that is almost in reach that could do it.

Or to get a little more out there, a way to dampen gravity.

PrometheusGoneWild.com
25th January, 2013 @ 06:49 am PST

The only significant difference between this article, the company DSI, and doodling on bar napkins is that in a bar one can at least get something to eat & drink while doodling on the bar napkins. It still takes lots of energy to do this, it still takes people on, or at least very the place to make repairs, etc, and none of these requirements are cheap or easy to accomplish.

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency are in the midst of a month long experiment with a Canadian designed Robotic Refueling Module to remove a cap, open a valve, and eventually pump some ethanol. All of this just to study the concept of in situ satellite refueling. Hunting for big rocks to mine is a lot farther off.

StWils
25th January, 2013 @ 07:39 am PST

a rail slingshot or trebuchet might be the cheapest if it was self digging...

I didn't see any mention of the nickel molybdenum or other exotics they'd need to make it profitable. maybe some surveys are available somewhere.

If a bigger one were put into orbit here or the moon would it make a lake on the planet somewhere have a high tide?

Kwazai
25th January, 2013 @ 11:35 am PST

Helium 3......better than anti grav or any other fuel....on moon now...small amt can power anything.....thnk HELIUM 3 all earth gov'ts will be going after it in future..

Joe Terry
25th January, 2013 @ 01:38 pm PST

re; PrometheusGoneWild.com

Using space sourced resources lowers the cost of space operations.

re; StWils

NASA can't serve coffee at a meeting without seven pieces of paper and two rehearsals.

re; Joe Terry

For Helium 3 to have any value cost effective fusion has to be developed. Hydrogen 3 decays into helium 3 on a human time frame and hydrogen 3 is easy to generate.

Slowburn
26th January, 2013 @ 02:23 am PST

The paradox of their business: expensive out-of-the-grav-pit makes their business profitable, but on the other hand, lessens the number of customers... Difficult dilema!!!

But their business will soar when in-space metal and plastics manufacturing will replace out-of-the-grav-pit resources. Only intelligence will come out of the grav-pit, and the cost is nearly 0!

Dan Vasii
4th March, 2013 @ 04:06 am PST

We need jobs, Lets have a Deep Space 9 (star trek) for mining.

Gargamoth
14th April, 2013 @ 08:44 pm PDT
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