Friday, March 8, 2013

Asteroid-prospecting spacecraft unveiled

From 2015, a fleet of “FireFly” spacecraft, weighing just 25 kg each, will whizz into space to explore any passing asteroids for signs of useful materials such as industrial metals, platinum-like metals, water and silicon. Within a decade Deep Space Industries, the company behind the project, hopes to be able to harvest passing asteroids for metals and other building materials for use in space projects such as building communications platforms and solar power arrays.

It will also seek out rarer and more valuable metals for sale on Earth, for example in pollution control technology, and water and fuel which could be used in interplanetary space flight.

Initially, the fleet of “FireFlies” will be directed to examine suitable candidate asteroids as they fly past Earth, hitching a lift into orbit with communication satellites to save on energy and costs. From 2016, larger “DragonFly” craft weighing 32 kg will be tasked with collecting samples from suitable asteroids and returning them to Earth for analysis by scientists.

The company believes materials harvested from asteroids can be used to build complex metal parts for use in space infrastructure and to fuel and equip space craft, bringing down the cost of missions to Mars.

Using materials collected from asteroids in space projects– and therefore eliminating the need to launch them from Earth–is the “only way to afford permanent space development,” chief executive David Gump added.

The company eventually hopes to find asteroids containing precious metals such as gold and platinum, which could be sold on Earth.

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