Space

Deep Space Industries plans first private asteroid landing as mining prelude

Prospector-1 could be the world's first private interplanetary mission
Prospector-1 could be the world's first private interplanetary mission
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Diagram of the Prospector-1 mission
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Diagram of the Prospector-1 mission
Prospector-1 could be the world's first private interplanetary mission
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Prospector-1 could be the world's first private interplanetary mission

Deep Space Industries (DSI) today announced that it will conduct what it claims is the world's first commercial interplanetary mining mission. In conjunction with the government of Luxembourg, the Silicon Valley-based company is planning to launch an unmanned spacecraft called Prospector-1 to intercept, survey, and land on a near-Earth asteroid as a prelude to space mining operations.

According to DSI, Prospector-1 is meant to be a low-cost mission. Exactly how low cost won't be disclosed, but a company white paper (PDF) places it in the tens of millions of dollars. Weighing only 50 kg (110 lb) fully fueled, the spacecraft is designed to be launched as a secondary payload into low-earth orbit from where it will be sent into deep space by an integrated booster stage.

The purpose behind the mission is to demonstrate that private industry has the capability to mount an interplanetary mission with, in this case, the objective of rendezvousing with a near-Earth asteroid, mapping it, identifying commercially viable amounts of minerals with an emphasis on water and carbon dioxide, and effecting a landing to assess the asteroid's physical characteristics and "diggability." The results of these findings will be used to plan actual mining operations.

In keeping the budgetary considerations mission, Prospector-1 is a relatively simple, low-cost craft standing about 50 cm (20 in) tall, excluding its landing legs. Its hexagonal architecture holds solar panels, radiation-hardened avionics, tracking sensors, attitude control systems, image camera, neutron spectrometer, and instrumented landing legs housing a magnetometer and gravimeter.

Propulsion for Prospector-1 is DSI's proprietary Comet thrusters, which use water vapor superheated to 1,000° C (1,800° F) to produce about 200 seconds of specific impulse. According to the designers, using water as a propellant is not only cheap, but also greatly reduces the dangers of explosion or corrosion. In addition, using water will greatly simplify the problems of refueling in future missions.

Diagram of the Prospector-1 mission
Diagram of the Prospector-1 mission

DSI says that Prospector-1 will build on the results of its Prospector-X orbital technology demonstrator and HawkEye 360 constellation of Earth-orbit prospecting microsatellites, both of which will launch before Prospector-1. The Prospector-X mission is scheduled to launch in 2017, while a Prospector-1 launch is penciled in for sometime before the end of the decade. In the meantime, the Prospector platform is available for private and government customers looking to develop their own low-cost missions.

"During the next decade, we will begin the harvest of space resources from asteroids," says Daniel Faber, CEO of Deep Space Industries. "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."

Source: Deep Space Industries

3 comments
Bob Flint
Although the propellant system uses water, you still need energy to heat it, and once it's pressurized steam (water expanding ) at just above 100 degrees C small spurts would be enough to puff it along. More of a challenge is finding the "right" asteroid, then catch up with it, land and confirming, that you've found worthwhile material to exploit. Then as the years go by (because of the vast distance involved) sending a mining vehicle back to same asteroid, land, dig, collect, & return with the booty, in a time frame that can be of use to those individuals that wish to profit in their lifetime...Trying to haul back an asteroid large enough is the same problem as trying to deflect one that is destined to destroy us..
MichiganDave
Somewhere Robert A. Heinlein is smiling at this.
CharlieSeattle
Deep Space Mining will be a cover someday for a military near-Earth asteroid attack on enemy earth targets below. Prepare your defense skills by practicing now... Asteroids was one of the earliest video games (released in 1979) and was simply mind blowing at the time. Its vector based graphics system put it way ahead of its time. (Battlezone and Star Wars were other games to use this approach a couple of years later). The game play and physics are superb, it's a cult classic. You can relive this amazing game here... in stunning full screen! http://www.freeasteroids.org/welcome/
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