‘Firefly’ Satellite To Survey Asteroids For Harvesting

Category: Technology / Jan 23, 2013 11:00AM EDT
Imagine a place in time, where the most futuristic space station allows astronauts to draw power from the sun and grab resources mined from asteroids to create a totally self-sustaining way of life. A team of entrepreneurs and engineers unveiled plans on Tuesday (January 22) for just that, promising a space mining company that would tap nearby asteroids for hydrogen, oxygen, iron and nickel to fuel satellites and manufacture components in orbit. Deep Space Industries said its inaugural mission is targeted for 2015, when it would send a small hitchhiker spacecraft called "Firefly" on a six-month expedition to survey an as-yet-unidentified asteroid. The 55-pound (25-kg) satellite, about the size of a laptop computer, would be launched as a secondary payload aboard a commercial rocket carrying a communications satellite or other robotic probe. "One of the things we are going to be doing is creating an economy in space," explained Rick Tumlinson, who sits as the company's chairman of the the board. "We are going to be creating wealth and mining resources that we believe in the long run will help life on earth. At first, what we are going to be about is using those resources to expand and enhance what we are going to do in space." Tumlinson said about 1,000 small asteroids relatively close to Earth are discovered every year. Most, if not all, are believed to contain water and gases, such as methane, which can be turned into fuel, as well as metals, such as nickel, which can be used in three-dimensional printers to manufacture components. Deep Space Industries believes that everything is in place to make their dream of self-sustaining space stations a reality. Company officials, who unveiled their plans at a press conference at the Museum of Flight in Santa Monica, did not comment on their financial backing except to say they were looking for investors. Deep Space Industries is the second company to unveil plans to mine asteroids. Last year, Planetary Resources, a Bellevue, Washington-based company backed by high-profile investors including Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt and advisers like filmmaker James Cameron, announced a program that would begin with small, low-cost telescopes to scout for potentially lucrative asteroids. The cost of a Firefly mission would be about 20 million, half of which the company expects will come from government and research institute contracts and half from corporate advertising, sponsorships and other marketing ventures. The company's ultimate goal is to build a fleet of robotic ships to extract resources for fuel and to mine valuable minerals from asteroids. - Reuters