Asteroid mining is one of those things that sounds good in principle, but we’re not sure how good it’ll be in practice. However, one company in the US is making headway with its own plans to make the idea a reality, and they’ve recently announced a new mission.
The company is Deep Space Industries (DSI), based in California. Earlier this year, we brought you the news they wanted to launch a demonstration spacecraft, called Prospector-X, at some point in 2017. Now, they’ve revealed a new mission to launch by 2020 that will visit an asteroid, called Prospector-1.
“During the next decade, we will begin the harvest of space resources from asteroids,” said Daniel Faber, CEO of DSI, in a statement. “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.”
Prospector-X will be a small spacecraft that will test out various technologies for DSI, including a thruster powered by water called Comet-1, using steam as a propellant. The ultimate goal for the company is to have a fleet of spacecraft that survey potential asteroids for useful resources, things like platinum and water, which are then extracted by other spacecraft. New laws passed in the US last year allow for such activities.
Prospector-1 will be the first attempt to survey an asteroid by a private company, using the Comet-1 thruster pioneered by its predecessor. The spacecraft will be small, at just 50 kilograms (110 pounds) when fueled, but will pack the necessary instruments to map the surface and subsurface of an asteroid. This will include taking visual and infrared imagery and mapping the asteroid’s water content from orbit. The mission will conclude by touching down on the surface to study the asteroid in more detail.
“The ability to locate, travel to, and analyze potentially rich supplies of space resources is critical to our plans,” added Faber. “This means not just looking at the target, but actually making contact.”
The asteroid for this mission has not yet been selected, but DSI will whittle down a list of candidates to find the most suitable object. What the next step after this mission will be isn’t clear at the moment, but maybe asteroid mining isn’t as far off as you think.