Deep Space Industries Firefly spacecraft.
Deep Space Industries (DSI) is another new entry in the asteroid mining field who want to go beyond just mining asteroids and into manufacturing products in space. As with another recent new commercial space venture, Golden Spike, DSI showcased some savvy space veterans but lack the resources to execute their plans to completion.
In fact both companies made a point of going public so that potential investors might take notice. Unfortunately they and other like minded companies are all after the same investors who don't seem to be interested at this stage.
The only recent new venture that attracted any significant investors, though funding amounts weren't revealed, was Planetary Resources whose investors include Google's Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, Charles Simonyi, and other notables.
DSI did spend some time today talking about their plans and went into some detail to educate those listening on the market potential and their technology. Unfortunately the event was not well choreographed with background lectures coming before the actual raison d'être was fully explained.
Rick Tumlinson is the Chairman of the new company and in typical Space Frontier Foundation style introduced his company by saying "welcome to the revolution".
David Gump, the former President of Astrobotic Technology who left the fledgling space robotics and Google Lunar X Prize company last year, is the new CEO. Kirby Ikin is the President and John Mankins is the Chief Technical Officer.
Company teaser video.
DSI has far reaching plans including providing propellants to satellite customers from mined resources. Stephen Covey, one of the directors of the company said of mining an asteroid "virtually all recovered mass will have some value."
One interesting idea Covey spoke about was their Microgravity Foundry 3D printer which they'll use in the manufacturing process. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing,
is an emerging technology that's not quite turned the economic corner but which has great potential. The process involves laying down successive layers of material to create an object from a digital design.
DSI eventually plans to acquire a small asteroid and funnel smashed parts of it through a manufacturing plant which will then output several products, some of which are created using their Microgravity Foundry 3D Printer. It's an interesting concept that's never been tested in space and for which research and development would surely will be costly.
"The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density high-strength metal components even in zero gravity," said Covey, inventor of the process. "Other metal 3D printers sinter powdered metal, which requires a gravity field and leaves a porous structure, or they use low-melting point metals with less strength."
The company which has been active for about six months has some initial investors but wouldn't comment on who they are and what investment they've made.
The company intends to use commercial off the shelf technology to start, in particular modified cubesats, to build their initial fleet of small spacecraft, the first of which is called Firefly.
DSI plans to launch 1 to 3 Firefly missions as one-way reconnaissance missions to candidate asteroids. The objective of the Firefly missions will be to learn more about the asteroids composition, structure and spin rate.
Once the Firefly missions are accomplished, DSI plans on sending the next class of spacecraft, called DragonFly, to the selected asteroid for a sample return mission. DragonFly is a 31kg spacecraft that is capable of returning 27-68kg of samples from the asteroid.
Should they then reach the next stage they'll send the Harvestor to the asteroid to begin the mining process.
DSI's ambitions go well beyond mining asteroids. Their eventual goal is to become 'the' services company providing fuel, air, water and building supplies for those who want it.
DSI will no doubt appeal to all those who crave to explore space, but ambitions and dreams aside, DSI must first convince potential customers and investors that their business plan is based on a solid economic footing.
You can follow DSI on Twitter at this address: GoDeepSpace