Hot on the heels of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, US tech company Deep Space Industries has announced plans to embark on the world’s first interplanetary mining mission with the spacecraft they are calling Prospector-1.
The announcement also comes soon after the US Senate passed a law which entitles people to own the goods that they mine from space.
There is enormous potential for profit in this field as asteroids contain many valuable materials including iron, tungsten, magnesium, platinum and gold.
NASA has already revealed its plans to launch OSIRIS-REx later this year to retrieve a small sample from a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu.
Prospector-1, like OSIRIS-REx, will strive to analyse and extract valuable materials from asteroids to bring back to Earth. In addition, though, Deep Space Industries’ prospector missions could usher in a new era of low cost space exploration according to the chief engineer at Deep Space Industries, Grant Bonin.
Although the spacecraft will be a meagre 50 kilograms when fully fuelled, the Prospector-1 will be extremely efficient.
Its propulsion system will employ superheated water vapour to generate thrust and since water will be the first asteroid mining product this will allow future Deep Space Industries spacecraft to refuel in space.
The first steps in the process to launch Prospector-1 are already underway as plans were revealed recently to build and fly a precursor model spacecraft called Prospector-X in 2017.
This experimental mission will test the technology in low-Earth orbit, but Deep Space Industries anticipates that by the end of the decade Prospector-1 will be traveling beyond Earth’s orbit on the first space mining exploration mission.