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Deep Space Industries will send 'FireFly' ships to prospect for mineable asteroids in 2015

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Deep Space Industries, which will hold its official launch on Tuesday at Santa Monica's Museum of Flying, is the latest of several ambitious private companies to announce plans for the final frontier: in its case, to prospect near-Earth asteroids with an eye towards using materials in them to build a permanent presence in space. In 2015, it says it will begin sending unmanned "FireFly" spacecraft to explore asteroids that fly near Earth, followed by heavier "DragonFly" craft that will bring back samples from likely candidates between 2016 and 2020.

If these initial steps pan out, DSI has far more ambitious plans. Among them is a "Microgravity Foundry," a 3D printing technology that uses nickel-charged gas to print metal components in zero gravity. The company says a patent is pending, but we're not sure how far along the tech is ? though 3D printing has been tried successfully in zero gravity. DSI also promises the same things we've heard from other asteroid mining proponents: if the resources in an asteroid can be successfully recovered, they'll provide things like fuel or metals to current-generation spacecraft. "In a decade," a statement says, "Deep Space will be harvesting asteroids for metals and other building materials, to construct large communications platforms to replace communications satellites, and later solar power stations to beam carbon-free energy to consumers on Earth."

In terms of the feasibility of its claims, DSI is roughly on par with Planetary Resources, which announced its own asteroid mining plans in April 2012. Neither company has a proven record like breakout success SpaceX, but nor are their goals as fanciful as the Golden Spike proposal to profitably reach the Moon by 2020. What Deep Space Industries may lack, however, is funding. Planetary Resources was backed by millionaire director James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt among others; DSI hasn't indicated that it has access to pockets nearly so deep, and it's looking for sponsorship for the initial missions. CEO David Gump (previously of Astrobotic, another space exploration company) says that "the public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers, and other innovative ways to open the doors wide," helping to fund the flights. No deals have been disclosed, though DSI says there's "interest" from NASA and others.

Besides Gump, we haven't yet got a full list of the people behind Deep Space Industry, but it's chaired by space luminary Rick Tumlinson, an early space tourist and founding trustee of the X Prize. Geoffrey Notkin of the Science Channel show Meteorite Men and space analyst Mark Sonter are also part of the project, and 3D printing entrepreneur James Wolff is listed as a co-founder elsewhere online. We're still awaiting more details from the conference itself, which will be streamed live at Spacevidcast starting at 12PM ET.

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Asteroids are full of noble metals, like gold. So this could be very interesting. Expensive, but interesting.

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Doesn't look anything like Serenity.

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it would be interesting to see in my lifetime the fledgling space mining operations.

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Doesn't look anything like Serenity.

This was my first thought as well...

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The real utility will be mining water and methane ices for use as fuel for propellant depots. Ceres alone has as nearly much water as the N.Atlantic.

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Getting started is going to be really expensive but after the initial setup, and the more runs they do, it might be very profitable.

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Interesting article on space docks/waypoints/gateways -

2221a.jpg

http://thespacereview.com/article/2221/1

Cislunar transportation: the space trucking system

Many people wonder what all the fuss is all about when they keep hearing the phrase ?cislunar architecture.? Many of us are using the phrase to refer to what is essentially a space trucking system, with the equivalent of truck stops and cargo loading yards (freight terminals). Lets use the trucking analogy to explain what we are talking about.

You do not use an expensive truck to carry a load just a single time, and then immediately send the truck to the junkyard to be scrapped. Trucking businesses could not operate this way. Some truck cab and trailer combinations today are probably worth close to a quarter million dollars new. Some cabs alone are close to $100,000 used. Most of the current rockets used today cost over $100 million, so large rockets can be up to 1,000 times more valuable than a tractor-trailer, yet all of them smash into the ocean or desert and become scrap metal after just one flight.

For rockets that take off from the ground, one obvious way to allow re-use is for them to land on the ground intact. SpaceX and some other companies are trying to do just that. Quite a few rockets have now accomplished short flights and landed again safely. Without wings, the landings must be vertical. Re-use with a vertical landing was first done by the DC-X at White Sands on September 11, 1993.

For rocket vehicles in space, the problem is different. We do not want to bring the vehicle back to the ground to refuel, since it is extremely costly to get it up into space in the first place. Once it is in orbit, we want to be able to re-use that vehicle in space over and over again.

However, there is currently no fuel supply or ?space gas station? in space where such a vehicle could refuel. After all, what good is a truck without fuel? What good would the Interstate routes be without gas stations? When we refer generically to space ?fuel?, we usually mean two propellants: a real combustible fuel such as hydrogen or kerosene, and an oxidizer like oxygen.

All along our interstate and other major roads, we have truck stops designed to service and refuel large trucks. The space equivalent we really need is the waystation, and its most important feature is the propellant (fuel and oxidizer) supply?the depot.

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Interview with DSI:

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All along our interstate and other major roads, we have truck stops designed to service and refuel large trucks. The space equivalent we really need is the waystation, and its most important feature is the propellant (fuel and oxidizer) supply?the depot.

An excellent idea. This might just work.

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NASA has a proposal for an exploration gateway (search for posts on it) but a waystation would be dven larger & capable of docking several spacecraft for refueling, assembly & integration into a larger vehicle or heading off on exploration missions. Both would be best placed at one of the Lagrange points - gravitational equilibrium points.

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