Asteroid Mining?

Rand Simberg over at Pajamas has taken note that a second company has jumped into the asteroid-mining fray (which I confess I did not know existed until this morning). Planetary Resources (PR), which plans to remotely detect asteroids via telescopes in low earth orbit, got off the ground (so to speak) last year. Last week, Deep Space Industries (DSI) announced even more ambitious plans.

DSI intends to “send out actual small probes (called “Fireflies”) to survey and assay [asteroid targets] with flybys”. The Fireflies are to be followed by “Dragonflies”, which will bring back samples up to one hundred pounds. When suitable asteroids are confirmed, “Harvesters” will be sent out in larger spacecraft to mine the product.

DSI’s plans don’t stop there, though. Simberg writes, “They intend to be a space manufacturing company, and they have plans for what they call a ‘Microgravity Foundry’ — a 3-D printer that can process materials in weightlessness. The goal is ‘asteroid bits in, useful products out.’ The Foundry is in a conceptual phase, but they have patents, and are getting small business contracts to develop and prove it out.” Apparently it is possible to make propellant from water-based asteroids that is useful to both commercial satellite owners and to NASA.

DSI is thinking big. Its target is to become “the space equivalent of Pittsburgh or Detroit — a location for heavy manufacturing close to their source of raw materials, just as those industrial cities once relied on the Iron Range of Minnesota to feed the foundries and factories of the upper Midwest. But instead of raw steel and cars, one of their ultimate goals is to generate clean energy for use in both space and on earth.”

Well, it’s better than wind farms. What say you?