According to Space.com, Planetary Resources, the asteroid-mining company that announced itself in April, has a competitor in the form of Deep Space Industries, which also proposes to make money mining asteroids.
Asteroid prospecting plan different than that of Planetary Resources
Deep Space Industries has a slightly different approach to asteroid prospecting than Planetary Resources, according to New Space Watch. The company intends to send small probes called Firefly to a number of likely asteroids to prospect for useful minerals, planned for launch in 2015. Then, in 2016, probes called Dragonfly will be launched to return small samples from asteroids for closer examination on Earth.
Building things from asteroid materials
New Space Watch goes on to mention that Deep Space Industries is developing a new type of 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry, capable of operating in microgravity, that can use bulk minerals from asteroids, such as nickel, to create things such as spare parts for spacecraft. The bulk minerals will be extracted and will be used to create products to be delivered to space-based markets, such as space stations or spacecraft being readied to deep space voyages. This kind of process is judged to be cheaper than making parts on Earth and then launching them out of the planet's deep gravity well to locations in space.
Water for fuel
The other market that Deep Space Industries is looking at, according to New Space Watch, is extracting materials from asteroids such as water for fuel. Such fuel can be used to top off satellites, extending their useful life, or spacecraft being assembled and readied for deep-space missions. This process, as with things made with bulk metals, is judged to be cheaper than launching fuel from Earth.
The only mention of extracting rare minerals, according to the New Space Watch piece, is the notion that it only becomes economical when one is already visiting asteroids to exploit bulk minerals like nickel and iron and water for fuel. Planetary Resources suggests that platinum would be a primary source of income if and when its operations begin in earnest.
The men behind Deep Space Industries
Two people familiar in space activism and commercial space circles are the driving force behind the Deep Space Industries effort. David Gump, the CEO of the company, has been involved in a number of past commercial space efforts, including Astrobotic Technology Inc., Transformational Space Corp, and LunaCorp. Rick Tumlinson, the chairman of the Company, is a co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation and the Texas Space Alliance and has among his commercial space endeavors XTream Space and Orbital Outfitters.
Funding for Deep Space Industries
There is no word about what kind of funding or investment is available for Deep Space Industries in either the Space.com or New Space Watch accounts. The company mentions corporate sponsorships and public participation in their Firefly and Dragonfly prospecting missions.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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