space.com1The scientists working on the concept envision launching a small probe that DSI is developing, called Mothership, out to a promising near-Earth asteroid in deep space. Mothership would be carrying a number of tiny CubeSats, one of which would deploy and spiral down to the asteroid’s surface.

The CubeSat would then inject into the asteroid a low-temperature fluid laden with bacteria, which would propagate through cracks and fissures generated by the injection process. Over time, the microbes — genetically engineered to process metals efficiently — would break down harmful compounds within the asteroid and/or transform resources into different chemical states that are more amenable to extraction.

This work would be slow, but the bacteria would be doing it for free (after the initial expenditure of getting them out to the asteroid, of course).

“The use of self-sustaining biomining mitigates the need for sustained docking, anchoring, drilling, processing or other technically challenging traditional mining approaches,” Grace and his colleagues wrote in a poster they presented at AGU. “If shown to function, the use of life to preprocess valuable deep-space resources could change the economic practicality of a large range of human activity in space.”

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