Today a new space-exploration group, Deep Space Industries, announced in Los Angeles that they intend to capture an asteroid and mine it for valuable resources. This is not the stuff of Science-fiction, but of Science-fact. The keystone of this entire venture is fabrication in Space rather than on-the-ground. DSI has determined that the hurdle is getting to Low-Earth Orbit - fabricating required parts and components in Space from Asteroid material rather than making everything on Earth is DSI's goal. At the centre of their 'Microgravity Foundry' is a 3D Printer.
To quote their website,
Deep Space is building a team with the skills to turn raw asteroids into valuable products. We’ll serve in-space markets first, where fuel and materials shipped up from Earth are exceedingly costly. The MicroGravity Foundry will be able to transform asteroid ore into complex metal parts with a simple 3D printing process. Deep Space will be the Maker of things that are needed to open the frontier of space, using processes and machines that start small and can be scaled as large as our plans take us.
The first step will occur in 2015, when DSI intends to launch a 55-pound Cubesat called 'Firefly' into space to prospect small, near-Earth Asteroids. A second, heavier unmanned spaceship named 'Dragonfly' will capture and return to earth samples from a few of these Asteroids. If all goes according to plan, larger spacecraft will be sent to begin properly mining. Fuel, Oxygen and metals for spare parts will be extracted from the space rocks, which are theorized to be rich with water, Nickel and hard-to-find materials like Platinum. The tone of DSI's announcement about such a 'bridge to the stars' is set with a sure sense of destiny.
In a decade, Deep Space will be harvesting asteroids for metals and other building materials, to construct large communications platforms to replace communications satellites, and later solar power stations to beam carbon-free energy to consumers on Earth.
Deep Space Industries is not the first to get into this space mining business. Planetary Ventures was backed by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Google Co-founder Larry Page and film tycoon James Cameron (of Titanic fame) in April 2012, with the first step of launching unmanned probes to occur within two years. More recently another group called Golden Spike has promised to get Astronauts back to the Moon by 2020, but with the support of commercial venture capital and not State investment. One can say forthrightly, The Great Asteroid Gold Rush has begun!
Where will you be? In space, collaborating with Earthbound Engineers over GrabCAD to print new parts for a rock drill? Seems reasonable to expect!