DSI to launch Prospector 1 space mining mission
US private space technology and resources firm Deep Space Industries (DSI) has announced it plans to launch the world’s first commercial interplanetary mining mission.
A spacecraft dubbed Prospector-1 will fly to a near-Earth asteroid and investigate the object to determine its value as a source of resources.
The project will begin in early 2017 with the construction of a test spacecraft to be named Prospector-X.
The craft’s primary goal is to test technology essential to the main mission in low-Earth orbit. Prospector-1 is then expected to launch within the next decade.
DSI says it hopes to not only fulfil its own space mining project, but to also provide an entirely new, low-cost space exploration technology to the market.
"DSI’s Prospector missions will usher in a new era of low-cost space exploration," DSI chief engineer Grant Bonin says.
"DSI is developing Prospector-1 both for its own asteroid mining ambitions, as well as to bring an extremely low-cost, yet high-performance exploration capability to the market.
"We hope to enable both existing and new public and private organisations to explore the inner solar system using this affordable platform," he says.
The target asteroid has not yet been determined, but a shortlist of 10 candidates is currently being examined by DSI’s asteroid experts to determine the most suitable rock.
Prospector-1 is a fairly small spacecraft, weighing just 50kg when fully fuelled. DSI says the small design is crucial to the company’s long-term goal of striking a balance between cost and performance.
The craft has been designed to be radiation-tolerant (essential in space) and uses DSI’s Comet propulsion system, which uses superheated water vapour as a source of thrust.
DSI says water will be the first product it mines in space, so a water-propulsion system is ideal as it allows the spacecraft to refuel in space.
Once Prospector-1 reaches the target asteroid, it will map the surface and subsurface from above, taking visual and infrared imagery to determine overall water content. Once this initial survey is complete, the spacecraft will touch down on the surface and begin to measure the geophysical and geotechnical characteristics of the asteroid.
"The ability to locate, travel to, and analyse potentially rich supplies of space resources is critical to our plans," DSI CEO Daniel Faber says. "This means not just looking at the target, but actually making contact."
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