Deep Space Industries (DSI) announced Tuesday it intends to launch a mineral survey probe to an asteroid sometime next year.
DSI’s probe will rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid by 2020, then map the object to determine its value for mineral mining. DSI wants to follow up its survey up with the first commercial interplanetary mining mission.
“As a first step towards expanding the free market into space, DSI’s Prospector will fulfill a critical role of not only providing metallurgical analysis of a target mining asteroid, but do so primarily under the impetus of private concerns,” an engineer familiar with the matter, who requested to remain anonymous, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The implications cannot be understated.”
The probe will weigh only 110 pounds when fueled, and will use a new water propulsion system which will eject super-heated water vapor to generate thrust. DSI intends to eventually mine water from asteroids to provide future spacecraft with the ability to refuel in space.
“Deep Space Industries has worked diligently to get to this point, and now we can say with confidence that we have the right technology, the right team and the right plan to execute this historic mission,” Rick Tumlinson, chairman of the board and co-founder of Deep Space Industries, wrote in a press statement. “Building on our Prospector-X mission, Prospector-1 will be the next step on our way to harvesting asteroid resources.”
DSI also plans to sell small satellites to other private companies. This appears to be how DSI will pay the bills during the long asteroid mission time frames.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill in November, later signed by President Barack Obama, legalizing asteroid mining. Under the new law, companies have property rights to the resources they extract from asteroids, such as platinum and water. Experts at think tanks routinely noted the lack of legal recognition of property rights in space as one of the major road blocks to the development of space-based industries.
Previously, the Outer Space Treaty declared that no nation could own property in space. The wording of the treaty is vague enough that companies want to ensure they’ll own the resources they mine from asteroids before investing. The bill Congress passed would make those property rights official, at least under U.S. law.
The recent successes of private companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Bigelow Aerospace have encouraged a wave of investment in space. Another private space company called Planetary Resources has already launched a simple test vehicle into low Earth orbit and also intends to mine asteroids.
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