Asteroid-prospecting space plan unveiled – by CBC Radio Sudbury (January 22, 2013)

Tiny FireFlies to start exploring in 2015

Laptop-sized spacecraft are slated to blast off for nearby asteroids in 2015, paving the way for larger ships to mine the space rocks for metals and fuels, under plans unveiled Tuesday by a U.S. firm.

Deep Space Industries intends to launch three 25-kilogram FireFly spacecraft – described by the company as slightly bigger than a laptop — on two- to six-month one-way prospecting trips as part of a long-term vision to harvest resources from asteroids.

Those resources could refuel satellites and spacecraft en route to Mars or be used to build orbiting space platforms to deliver power and high speed internet anywhere on Earth, the company said at a news conference at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying in California.

CEO David Gump said the company plans to next launch:

  • Larger “DragonFly” spacecraft in 2016 to take samples of up to 45 kilograms from the asteroids.
  • “Harvester” spacecraft, that will gather a few hundred tonnes of metals, gases and gravel from the asteroids that the firm intends to process and sell.

“It’s potentially extremely valuable material,” said Mark Sonter, an independent scientific consultant in the Australian mining and metallurgical industries who sits on Deep Space Industries’ board of directors.

Harvesting materials in space for use in space will be far cheaper than launching it into space from Earth, the company argues.

Tiny asteroids targeted

The FireFlies will initially target very tiny asteroids, less than 10 metres in diameter, which some scientists speculate are solid rather than covered in gravel as bigger asteroids are, Gump said.

However, the exact nature of such asteroids won’t be known until the FireFlies’ images and scientific data get beamed back to the company.

Based on studies of other asteroids and meteorites, Sonter said the company’s target asteroids are likely to yield:

  • Water and gases that can be sold as fuel to refuel satellites and spacecraft bound for Mars.
  • Nickel-iron metal that can be processed into building materials. Those could be used to build future space technologies such as communications platforms to beam high-speed internet anywhere on Earth.
  • Silicon for space-based solar arrays that could beam power back to Earth.

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