January 22, 2013
Company Shooting For Asteroid Prospecting By 2015
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Deep Space Industries (DSI) announced on Tuesday that it plans to send a fleet of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft out into the solar system.
These "FireFly" spacecraft use low-cost components and get discounted delivery to space by ride-sharing on the launch of larger satellites.
“This is the first commercial campaign to explore the small asteroids that pass by Earth,” Deep Space Chairman Rick Tumlinson said in a statement. “Using low cost technologies, and combining the legacy of our space program with the innovation of today´s young high tech geniuses, we will do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago.”
Fireflies will first be launched in 2015 on journeys of two to six months. Deep Space said it will be building a small fleet of FireFlies using miniature technologies.
“My smartphone has more computing power than they had on the Apollo moon missions,” Tumlinson said. “We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper, and faster than ever before. Imagine a production line of FireFlies, cocked and loaded and ready to fly out to examine any object that gets near the Earth.”
Deep Space said that it will start launching "DragonFlies" in 2016. The company said these larger spacecraft will be making roundtrips to bring samples back to Earth, returning 60 to 150 pounds of material.
“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,” CEO David 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.”
Deep Space will be using a technology called the MicroGravity Foundry to help transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts.
This technology is a 3D printer that uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, causing the nickel to be deposited in precise patterns.
“The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density high-strength metal components even in zero gravity,” said Stephen Covey, a co-Founder of DSI and inventor of the process. “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.”
Gump said that using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development.
"More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year," the Deep Space CEO said. "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 said it was looking for customers and sponsors who want to be a part of the development of this program.
“We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there,” said Tumlinson. “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."