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Asteroid mining plans announced

12 March 2013

A new space company, Deep Space Industries (DSI), said in January that it will launch a series of spacecraft to explore the possibility of harvesting natural resources from near-earth asteroids.

DSI became the second outfit in less than a year to express strong interest in mining precious metals in space. Planetary Resources, with the backing of Nasa scientists Chris Lewicki and Tom Jones, and space entrepreneurs Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, was established in April 2012.

DSI said it will launch a series of low-cost satellites in 2015 on journeys of two to six months, with larger spacecraft embarking on longer trips a year later.

The first prospecting missions with what the company call FireFly and DragonFly probes could hitch a ride into space on the launches of large communications satellites, DSI said.

Smaller FireFly probes will employ low-cost components to identify mineral-rich asteroids and larger DragonFly probes will take two to four years, depending on the target, and will bring materials back to Earth.

DSI chairman Rick Tumlinson said: "Using low-cost technologies, and combining the legacy of our space programme with the innovation of today's young high-tech geniuses, we will do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago."

The firm will work with NASA and other companies to build a small fleet of miniature probes and identify inter-spacial targets with potential for natural resources extraction.

One long-term idea is to build a space-borne manufacturing facility that takes in asteroid material, processes it into usable alloys and other substances, and makes objects with the material via a 3D printer.

Some asteroids are known to contain platinum and gold, while others are largely made from nickel-iron alloys.

''Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,'' said DSI chief executive 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.''

Planetary Resources is developing low cost space telescopes to find asteroids near Earth, interceptor and prospector probes to log which minerals they contain, and at a later date plans to land on the asteroids and mine them.

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