Harvesting and supplying in-space resources is the goal of Deep Space Industries plans to fly the world's first commercial interplanetary mining mission—Prospector-1™.
The spacecraft will fly to and rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid and investigate the object to determine if there is any value as a source of space resources. Recently, Deep Space Industries and their partner, the government of Luxembourg, announced plans to build and fly Prospector-X™, an experimental mission to LEO that will test key technologies needed for low-cost exploration spacecraft. This precursor mission is scheduled to launch in 2017. Then, before the end of this decade, Prospector-1 will travel beyond Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mining exploration mission.
Prospector-1 is a small spacecraft (50 kg when fueled) that strikes the ideal balance between cost and performance. In addition to radiation-tolerant payloads and avionics, all DSI spacecraft use the Comet™ water propulsion system, which expels super-heated water vapor to generate thrust. Water will be the first asteroid mining product, so the ability to use water as propellant will provide future DSI spacecraft with the ability to refuel in space.
The destination asteroid will be selected from a group of top candidates determined by the renowned team of asteroid experts at Deep Space Industries. When the spacecraft arrives at the target, the Prospector-1 spacecraft will map the surface and subsurface of the asteroid, taking visual and infrared imagery and mapping overall water content, down to approximately meter-level depth. When this initial science campaign is complete, Prospector-1 will use its water thrusters to attempt touchdown on the asteroid, measuring the target’s geophysical and geotechnical characteristics.
Along with customer missions already in progress, such as the cluster of small satellites being built by DSI for HawkEye 360, the Prospector missions will demonstrate the company’s simple, low-cost, but high-performance approach to space exploration. The Prospector platform is now available to government and commercial explorers interested in developing sophisticated, yet low-cost missions of their own.
According to Rick Tumlinson, the Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder of Deep Space Industries, the right technology, the right team,and the right plan to execute this historic mission are now in place and building on the Prospector-X mission, Prospector-1 will be the next step on the way to harvesting asteroid resources.
Grant Bonin, the chief engineer at DSI, added that the Prospector missions will usher in a new era of low cost space exploration, with Prospector-1 being developed both for his company's own asteroid mining ambitions, but to also bring an extremely low-cost, yet high-performance exploration spacecraft to the market. At a tiny fraction of what traditional custom-built space probes cost, he said, the Prospector platform has the versatility and ruggedness of design to become the new standard for low cost space exploration.
More detailed information about the Prospector program, including the Prospector-X (eXperimental) and Prospector-1 missions, and the DSI technologies that are making these missions possible, can be found on the company’s infosite.