A few years ago, if a company had stepped up and said it planned to send unmanned spacecraft to explore the possibility of mining asteroids in near earth orbit, quite a number of us probably would have politely chuckled.
However, now we have at least two corporations planning to dispatch unmanned ships to search for near-Earth asteroids rich in minerals and metals. One of the companies even has the financial backing of some major players in the technology industry.
Indeed, Deep Space Industries (DSI) hopes to chart, locate and mine near-Earth asteroids for precious metals and other resources. As such, DSI claims it will be dispatching unmanned FireFly spacecraft to near-Earth asteroids in 2015. These unmanned ships will be tasked with exploring the asteroids, and once likely targets are identified, the company hopes to follow up with a larger spacecraft known as DragonFly.
DSI says it is planning for the DragonFly spacecraft to retrieve samples from likely candidates discovered by the smaller ships between 2016 and 2020.
Now if mining metals and other material from asteroid seems far-fetched to you, DSI's next goal will sound even more out there. Yes, the company hopes at some point in the future to contruct a microgravity foundry that uses 3D technology to print out metal components in zero gravity. According to DSI, the microgravity foundry technology even has a patent pending.
"In a decade, 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," said DSI CEO David Gump.
"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."
It should probably be noted that Deep Space Industries competitor, Planetary Resources, also has similar asteroid mining plans.