Mining in space? California startup plans to be the first

Commercial mining outfit Deep Space Industries wants to use fuel found in asteroids to propel its uncrewed spacecraft.

Planetary Resources/AP/File
This computer-generated image provided by Planetary Resources, a group of high-tech tycoons who want to mine nearby asteroids, shows a conceptual rendering of satellites prospecting a water-rich, near-Earth asteroid.

In the first commercial mining mission beyond Earth's orbit, a California startup plans to scout asteroid resources and then begin mining for profit.

Deep Space Industries announced recently that they anticipate landing spacecraft Prospector-1 on a near-Earth asteroid by 2020 to identify any economic deposits. The company eventually plans to mine asteroids for water, carbon and other elements, precious metals, and even in-space building materials.

Prospector-1's first priority will be water. Beyond the possibility of processing it for drinking water, Deep Space Industries hopes to use water to propel the craft itself.

“Prospector-1 is not only the first commercial interplanetary mission, it is also an important milestone in our quest to open the frontier. By learning to ‘live off the land’ in space, Deep Space Industries is ushering in a new era of unlimited economic expansion,” said Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of Deep Space Industries, in a statement. 

Deep Space Industries (DSI) envisions converting ice found on asteroids into fuel for its spacecraft. The company's water-based propulsion system generates thrust by expelling super-heated water vapor.

"We are changing the paradigm of business operations in space, from one where our customers carry everything with them, to one in which the supplies they need are waiting for them when they get there," said Daniel Faber, the chief executive officer at DSI.

Private companies are eager to mine the resources that space has to offer. Another American start-up, Moon Express, became the first company to receive permission to fly beyond Earth's orbit last week. In a 2017 moon mission, the company plans to conduct research to lay the groundwork for eventually bringing "precious resources, metals, and Moon rocks back to Earth," said Naveen Jain, Moon Express chairman and co-founder.

DSI, in partnership with the government of Luxembourg, plans to launch Prospector-X into low orbit next year to test key technologies for Prospector-1's mission.

When Prospector-1 arrives at a near-Earth asteroid, it will map the surface of the celestial body, measure its water content up to a meter deep, and even touch down on the surface in order to analyze its geography, said company officials.

The US's other major asteroid mining company, Planetary Resources, also plans to mine water and metals from near-Earth asteroids. It too, has partnered with the government of Luxembourg, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

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