Santa Monica, California-based Deep Space Industries (DSI) says it has launched the first commercial campaign to inspect small asteroids which pass by earth as potential mining targets.
Deep Space will build a small fleet of 55-pound FireFlies, working with NASA and other companies and groups to identify potential exploration targets.
“My smartphone has more computing power than they had on the Apollo moon missions,” said Deep Space Chairman Rick Tumlinson. “We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper and faster than ever before.”
The company intends to send a fleet of FireFly spacecraft into space beginning in 2015 by riding-sharing on the launch of larger communications satellites.
Beginning in 2016, Deep Space aims to launch 70-pound DragonFlies for round-trip visits that bring back geological samples. The DragonFly expeditions are expect to take two to four years, depending on the target, and will return with 60 to 150 pounds of cargo.
Bringing back asteroid samples is only the beginning of what DSI hopes to accomplish. Senior leaders at NASA have been briefed on DSI’s technologies, “which would make eventual crewed Mars expeditions less expensive through the use of asteroid-derived propellant,” said DSI. “Missions would require fewer launches if the fuel to reach Mars were added in space from the volatiles in asteroids.”
“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” said DSI CEO David Gump. “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,” Gump noted.
“Mining asteroids for rare metals alone isn’t economical, but makes sense if you already are processing them for volatiles and bulk metals for in-space uses,” said Mark Sonter, a member of the DSI Board of Directors.
Deep Space Industries faces competition from Planetary Resources, another California-based asteroid mining venture, backed by film director James Cameron and Google co-founder Larry Page, among others.