May we make a suggestion for team leader of NASA's new mission? (Photo : Reuters)
Someone call Bruce Willis and tell him to cancel his retirement plans. His work is needed. A new "Armageddon"-like asteroid-mining company - in that it's an asteroid-mining company - launched Tuesday with the goal of harvesting space rocks for precious metals and creating permanent deep space colonies, LiveScience.com reported.
The new company, Deep Space Industries, Inc., plans to launch a fleet of prospecting spacecraft in 2015, and begin harvesting metals and water from near-Earth asteroids in about a decade. The company is hoping its work will make it possible to build and refuel spacecraft in space, furthering humanity's attempts to get a foothold in the "final frontier."
"Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development," Deep Space CEO David Gump said in a statement.
"More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year," Gump explained. "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."
Deep Space will search potential mining targets with 55-pound spacecrafts called FireFlies, and will launch the first such craft in 2015. The FireFlies will allow Deep Space to conduct exploratory asteroid missions on the cheap as they're made from low-cost "cubesat" parts and will fly to space on rockets that will also carry large communications satellites, Deep Space officials said.
"We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper and faster than ever before," Deep Space chairman Rick Tumlinson said in a statement. "Imagine a production line of FireFlies, cocked and loaded and ready to fly out to examine any object that gets near the Earth."
After FireFlies report their findings, Deep Space will launch 70-pound spacecrafts called DragonFlies in 2016 to bring asteroid samples back to Earth during missions that should last between two and four years, the company announced. Some samples will help Deep Space determine mining sites, and others will likely be sold to researchers and collectors, company officials said.
Deep Space has invited the public along for its first asteroid reconnaissance missions, which will be funded by some level of corporate sponsorship, the company said.
"The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers and other innovative ways to open the doors wide," Gump said. "The Google Lunar X Prize, Unilever and Red Bull each are spending tens of millions of dollars on space sponsorships, so the opportunity to sponsor a FireFly expedition into deep space will be enticing."
These probe missions are just build up to Deep Spaces ultimate goal of harvesting and in-space exploitation of asteroid resources. The company plans to begin extracting metals and other building materials from space rocks in a decade, first using the materials to build communications satellites while in space, with eventual construction of space-based solar power stations.
Deep Space says much of the in-space construction will be made possible by a patent-pending 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry.
"The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density, high-strength metal components even in zero gravity," company co-founder and MicroGravity Foundry inventor Stephen Covey said 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."
Deep Space also has the eventual goal of creating in-space "gas stations" that would allow satellites and traveling spacecraft to fill up their tanks. By focusing on extracting asteroid water, which can be split into hydrogen and oxygen, the main components of rocket fuel, the raw materials are there for the taking, the company claims.
"We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there," Tumlinson said. "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."