Private Company Aims to "Explore, Harvest" Extraterrestrial Resources

If the company can garner enough funding from corporate sponsors, it plans to launch three unmanned spacecraft to prospect asteroids.

By Angie Crouch, John Simerson and Samantha Tata
|  Monday, Mar 25, 2013  |  Updated 12:38 PM EDT
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Constantly basking in the sun’s energy, asteroids may be the future of alternative fuel, according to scientists who announced on Tuesday they’re creating a private company to mine these rocky, airless worlds that orbit our sun. Angie Crouch reports from Santa Monica for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22, 2013.

Angie Crouch

Constantly basking in the sun’s energy, asteroids may be the future of alternative fuel, according to scientists who announced on Tuesday they’re creating a private company to mine these rocky, airless worlds that orbit our sun. Angie Crouch reports from Santa Monica for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22, 2013.

Constantly basking in the sun’s energy, asteroids may be the future of alternative fuel, according to scientists who announced on Tuesday they’re creating a private company to mine these rocky, airless worlds that orbit our sun.

"Would you rather rip the heart out of a living mountain to get the metals you need, or go mine an asteroid that’s just a piece of dead rock that’s going to kill us if we don’t eat it?" said Rick Tumlinson, board chairman of Deep Space Industries.

Aside from reducing the threat of an impact with Earth, asteroid mining could harvest resources like hydrogen, oxygen, nickel and iron from these Near-Earth Objects. Scientists believe much of our planet's mineral riches arrived here via asteroids.

An international team of experts gathered on Tuesday at Santa Monica’s Museum of Flying to announce the creation of Deep Space Industries.

"We are anticipating if we build it, they will come," said John Mankins, chief technical officer at DSI.

Experts in space technology and exploration, founders of Deep Space Industries predict if they can get enough funding from corporate sponsors, they could launch three unmanned "Firefly" spacecraft in 2015 to prospect asteroids.

They’ll send up "Dragonfly" craft to bring samples back to earth within a year, and by 2020, they hope to build "Microgravity Foundries" – in space – which turn asteroid materials into complex metal parts.

Those foundries could eventually provide cheap fuel for communication satellites that are already in space. Floating solar-power plants that would beam energy to Earth, replacing coal and nuclear power, are also on Deep Space Industries’ wish list.

Rocky fragments left over from the formation of our solar system, asteroids can range in size from nearly 600 miles in diameter to less than a mile, according to NASA.

There are about half a million known asteroids. And because these so-called minor planets travel through space largely unchanged, they can give us a glimpse back in time 4.6 billion years to the early stages of our solar system.

Deep Space Industries’ headquarters will be in McClean, Va., but they’re considering building research and development facilities in Southern California because one of the founders already has a company that builds commercial space suits in North Hollywood.

DSI is the second private company to dream of mining asteroids. Last year, movie director James Cameron announced a similar plan with some big funders already in place.

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