As we enter the third millennium it is time to begin doing things differently. Giant multi-billion dollar missions, decades long timelines for even the smallest return on investment are unacceptable. DSI intends to break out not only from the Earth, but from the old ways of doing things.
While our technology will be beyond cutting edge, our costs will be kept low. While our time horizons are deep and our plans reach far into the future, our goal is to begin creating returns on our investments in the very near term.
While we are developing cutting edge systems and integrating a wide range of technologies into our plans, like any mining, exploration or refining firm on Earth today, Deep Space is far more than a technology company. In fact, our plan is to not be burdened with hardware and factories any more than we have to be. We use partnerships, licensing and sub-contracting to achieve our goals. This allows us to stay nimble and not have to do things simply because we have to justify the infrastructure we have in place. However, it is important to be able to do some things ourselves, to demonstrate our capabilities and learn how to be good customers and operators. Thus Deep Space Industries is creating both asteroid expeditions and breakthrough devices to utilize the material it harvests in space.
Small, nimble, lighting the way…
DSI will launch several extremely low cost Firefly expeditions on one-way reconnaissance missions to promising asteroids. Firefly missions will discover key aspects of target asteroids, including more about their composition, their structure (solid or rubble piles, for example) and spin rate (rapidly spinning asteroids will be harder to capture). Firefly spacecraft will utilize ultra low-cost cubesat and nanosat components, and will be sent into space as secondary “ride along” payloads on large launch vehicles carrying commercial communications and remote sensing satellites.
Tag ‘em, bag ‘em, and bring em back home.
The next step is to scale up the Firefly spacecraft to include asteroid capture tools, and additional fuel to enable them to return asteroid samples to Earth orbit. Dragonfly missions will bring back the first payloads of asteroid materials for study, early processing experiments and sale. Customers will include both scientific researchers and private collectors. For example, NASA is paying $1 billion for the OSIRIS-REx mission that may bring back 2 kg in 2021. Collectors pay as much as $1 million per kg for rare meteorites. DSI will feed part of the returned material into prototypes of its Microgravity Foundry (see below) to demonstrate its practicality for in-space manufacturing using asteroid resources.
DSI moves into full-scale commercial operations with the launch of Harvestor™-class asteroid collection missions, which will require the entire capacity of major launch vehicles, such as the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Proton or Ariane 5.
These missions will return thousands of tons per year, producing water, propellant, metals, building materials and shielding for everything we do in space in decades to come. Initial markets will be customers in space, where any substance is very expensive due to the cost of launching from Earth, over time, as costs drop and technologies improve we can then begin “exporting” back to Earth.
Space customers include communications satellites needing propellant to double their working lives, crewed stations needing water and propellant, and the first solar power satellites to beam nonpolluting, carbon-free and radioactivity-free power to electric utilities on Earth. Over time, if successful, these facilities may well grow into massive construction projects, consuming immense amounts of materials – provided by DSI.
DSI is developing a patent-pending breakthrough in 3D printers able to output complex metal components using a simple process with few moving parts. The MicroGravity Foundry (MGF) will enable early utilization of asteroid material to produce structural parts, fasteners, gears, and other components to repair in-space machinery and to create new space infrastructure, such as solar power satellites. A version of the MGF process will be licensed to terrestrial users; the underlying process is more straightforward than those now employed to digitally print metal components.
The water and hydrocarbons found in carbonaceous asteroids will be distilled into propellant for use by space stations, commercial habitats, and communications satellites. Crewed space agency expeditions to the Moon, Mars, and the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos will need prodigious quantities of fuel; standard mission plans envision that 90% of the mass launched from Earth for a Mars expedition will be fuel. Tanking up in Earth orbit from asteroid fuel instead will greatly reduce the cost of Mars trips by dramatically reducing the mass launched at great expense up the Earth’s deep gravity well.