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McLean, VA – February 15 – Today’s impact in Russia and the near miss by asteroid 2012 DA14 should shock the world into creating a sentry line of spacecraft circling the Earth to intercept and evaluate incoming threats, Deep Space Industries proposed.
“The hundreds of people injured in northern Russia show it’s time to take action and no longer be passive about these threats,” said Rick Tumlinson, chairman of Deep Space Industries.
Deep Space Industries proposes establishing several sentry lines encircling Earth with small spacecraft able to dart after intruders to get close-in photos and data as they pass. Over time additional spacecraft able to grab samples for analysis on Earth would join the sentry lines.
Not all asteroids are the same, and to be ready to deflect one that’s on a dangerous trajectory the world needs to know more about their structure and composition. Many may be solid but all photos so far have shown gravel and rock piles. A defense plan assuming the wrong type could make matters worse.
“Placing ten of our small FireFly spacecraft into position to intercept close encounters would take four years and less than $100 million,” said David Gump, CEO of Deep Space Industries. “This will help the world develop the understanding needed to block later threats.”
There are estimated to be more than 10,000 near Earth asteroids that could destroy a major city and a hundred that would end civilization. Near Earth asteroids are confirmed at a rate of more than 900 per year, but as yet little is known about their composition and structure.
“Observations by space telescopes like the Sentinel planned by the B612 Foundation and the smaller units offered by Planetary Resources should be supported,” Tumlinson said. “Astronomical observations are a good first step but at Deep Space we believe we need get up close and personal. Then when these objects are identified, we can launch one or more FireFlies to intercept them, and give us close-up images so that we understand what we are dealing with.”
Deep Space Industries is preparing the FireFly series to begin prospecting in 2015 for asteroids that are very small, five to seven meters in diameter. The same FireFly prospecting design would be used in the sentry line of asteroid interceptors.
Then in 2020, Deep Space will bring one of these tiny rocks back to a parking orbit near Earth to be harvested for its water, rocket fuel, and metals for in-space customers such as communications satellites that have run out of gas. The larger harvesting spacecraft might be the basis for interceptors that could nudge larger threats into trajectories that miss Earth.
In the coming months Deep Space Industries will be offering plans to develop a coordinated low-cost commercial solution to setting up humanity’s first line of defense against asteroid threats.
“While our primary mission is the harvesting of asteroid resources, we believe that virtually the same effort and technology can be applied to removing this threat to our precious planet,” Tumlinson said.
McLean, VA – February 12 – The asteroid making an extremely close pass of Earth this week could be worth up to $195 billion in metals and propellant, if it were in a different orbit, Deep Space Industries (DSI) announced today. Unfortunately, the path of asteroid 2012 DA14 is tilted relative to Earth, requiring too much energy to chase it down for mining.
Sending fuel, water, and building materials into high Earth orbit costs at least $10 million per ton, even using new lower-cost launch vehicles just now coming into service.
“Getting these supplies to serve communications satellites and coming crewed missions to Mars from in-space sources like asteroids is key – if we are going to explore and settle space,” said Rick Tumlinson, Chairman of DSI. “While this week’s visitor isn’t going the right way for us to harvest it, there will be others that are, and we want to be ready when they arrive.”
How valuable might such an asteroid be – were it harvestable? According to DSI experts, if 2012 DA14 contains 5% recoverable water, that alone – in space as rocket fuel – might be worth as much as $65 billion. If 10% of its mass is easily recovered iron, nickel and other metals, that could be worth – in space as building material – an additional $130 billion.
If the advent of reusable launch vehicles causes future prices to fall to 20% of today’s levels, an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 would still be worth $39 billion, and the cost of launching hardware to retrieve and process it would be much lower.
“Even with conservative estimates of the potential value of any given asteroid, if we begin to utilize them in space they are all the equivalent of a space oasis for refueling and resupply,” said Deep Space CEO David Gump. “Yet we know very little about most of them. That’s why Deep Space is starting off with a prospecting campaign using very affordable cubesat technologies and hitching cheap rides to space as secondary payloads on the launch of large communications satellites.”
While its trajectory past Earth is known with precision, almost everything else about the rock is uncertain. It could mass as little as 16,000 tons or as much as one million tons. The great range stems from uncertainties about its diameter – from 25 yards to 100 yards – and its composition. While probably mainly stony in nature, it could vary widely in the amount of water and metals it contains. Astronomers have measured how much light is being reflected from its surface but the question mark is the reflectivity of that surface. If the surface is very dark, reflecting that much light means it must be a big object. Conversely, if the surface is light, even a small asteroid could reflect a lot of light.
“This is thought to be a L-class asteroid, and this type generally reflects about 20 percent of the light that strikes it,” said Stephen Covey, DSI’s Director of Research and Development. “That would make its diameter about 50 yards and mass about 130,000 tons.”
Deep Space Industries will be harvesting asteroids to create propellant to extend the working life of communications satellites, to supply future explorers and to build habitats and other structures in space. However, 2012 DA14 is not one of its targets as its orbit around the Sun is significantly inclined relative to that of the Earth around the Sun, so that reaching it would take too much energy. Deep Space believes there are thousands of near Earth asteroids that will be easier to chase down than this one.
“The challenge right now is to get out there soon so we can inspect and sample them,” said Tumlinson. “Whether for mining, science or planetary defense, we really need to begin getting close up and personal with these objects.”
Deep Space Industries plans to send small probes called FireFlies to examine asteroids and allow comparisons with readings taken by Earth and space based telescopes. They are to be followed by DragonFly sample return missions, to lay the groundwork for potential space mining operations in the 2020 time frame.
Although the most popular images of asteroids are from movies and documentaries about their threat to our existence, we know that they also contain immense mineral wealth in the form of water, metals and other useful materials. Gaining knowledge for either reason helps the other. As one DSI team member said only half jokingly : ”It’s almost an eat or be eaten situation.”
Credit – NASA/Don Davis
Many near Earth asteroids may be extinct comets, with perhaps half their mass an ice core surrounded by an insulating blanket of dust and gravel. Turning the ice into propellant would provide abundant fuel for an expanding space-faring civilization. Propellant delivered to geostationary orbit for communications satellites and outbound missions to the Moon and Mars is worth $25 million per ton – and a small former comet would provide hundreds of tons of propellant.
Credit: NASA / Hubble Space Telescope
This is a photo of Meteor Crater in Arizona from the 1930s. It has only been in the last few decades that scientists have realized that features such as this were due to meteor impacts rather than volcanoes and other geological activities. 1.2km in diameter, it was caused by the impact of a smallish asteroid of only 80 feet in diameter sometime between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago. Today we believe there are tens of thousands of such objects in the Solar System.
In 1772 The Italian-french mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange published a paper laying out his idea that there would be certain areas within the gravitational fields of any two objects where smaller objects might be caught in a balancing act between the larger object’s gravity and the centripetal force needed to hurl them away into space. Earth thus has two sets of what we now call Lagrange (“L”) points: Earth-Sun and Earth-Moon. Five locations exist in the Earth-Moon system (and the Sun-Earth system) where spacecraft can balance itself with respect to Earth and the Moon. Two of these points — L1 and L2 — are low-energy gateways or gaps through which spacecraft can pass by expending a minimum of fuel. L points are a “triple threat” when it comes to their utility. They are like mountain passes that can be used to ease travel times, eddies or whirlpool where space materials may be found and harvested, and great locations to stockpile, mine and develop space facilities.
The Earth-Sun L points may in fact be very fertile hunting grounds for asteroids (see below). L points will also make great places for DSI to deposit asteroids we bring back for processing so they are safely removed from any chance of falling to Earth. Also, NASA is considering establishing a mini-space station at the Earth-Moon L2 point (the one on the far side of the Moon) as the first step toward a crewed mission to an asteroid, then to Mars. DSI may deliver a small asteroid to the L2 gateway to provide asteroid-sampling experience to astronauts making periodic visits.
Credit – NASA / WMAP
The Asteroid 2010TK7 is the first Earth-Sun “Trojan” asteroid to be discovered. About a thousand meters across, it loops in a tadpole shaped orbit around the Earth L-4 point some 50 million miles ahead of us as we orbit the sun. Discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite launched in 2009 we believe where there is one there might be more. The blue dots show our orbit around the sun, the green lines TK7s orbit around the L4 point (images not to scale). We believe that where we find one asteroid of this size (around 1000m) there might well be hundreds or thousands of smaller ones.
Credit – NASA
Ion propulsion uses electricity rather than a chemical reaction to produce thrust. An electrostatic field accelerates ionized xenon gas to produce thrust very efficiently but at low power, requiring long duration operation to equal the more forceful chemical engines used in most rockets. The power for the electric field comes from the solar panels you often see on such spacecraft. DSI’s Dr. Marc Rayman led the Deep Space I team that built the motor you see here – the first ion thrust system to ever fly on a scientific mission.
Credit – NASA/JPL