NASA has sprung on 3D printing over the past year, with the printed rocket components, plans to print structures on the moon, and to print satellites in orbit. And I briefly mentioned Planetary Resources planning to mine asteroids in space, and how they could use 3D printing, but there’s another company with similar goals of pulling precious metals out of the hundreds of near-misses with Earth, except that they have 3D printing already incorporated. Deep Space Industries is gearing up to send the first survey ships to scout for potential asteroids in 2015.
The first three ships, called FireFlies, will be about 55 pounds and sent on one-way trips to send pictures of nearby asteroids back to Earth. By 2016, DSI intends to deploy slightly larger, 70-pound DragonFlies on round-trip missions to retrieve samples from the surveyed asteroids and return the loot to Earth’s orbit, where DSI estimates a ton of asteroid stuff will be worth $1 million. Those trips will take about four years, so around 2020, after confirming that valuable materials can be extracted, Deep Space plans to distribute the materials, such as water-derived rocket fuels, to satellites, where an extra month of operation can be worth $8 million. Supplies could go to the International Space Station as well.
Additionally, DSI will be installing a large 3D printer called the Microgravity Foundry in orbit for the purpose of printing ship components, satellites, and even larger build platforms. The MF will print with asteroid materials. The success of this project will ensure many benefits to us Earthlings: we’ll be freed from our dwindling resource limitations (there are only so many tons of the rare-Earth metals on Earth that make our smartphones smart), less fuel will be burned carrying satellites into space, and space exploration will be further enabled, to the point of building lunar habitats. According to DSI CEO, David Gump, more than 900 nearby asteroids are discovered every year, so there’s plenty of potential materials out there. They’ll likely (hopefully) partner with universities too, supplying samples to eager astrobiologists.
Source: Daily Galaxy