SANTA MONICA (CBSLA.com) — A Westside company announced plans Tuesday to head up a private space mission to harvest precious metals and other minerals from near-Earth asteroids.
Santa Monica-based Deep Space Industries (DSI) has begun working toward the world’s first fleet of commercial asteroid-prospecting spacecraft by 2015.
Chairman Rick Tumlinson told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO the ambitious undertaking is an idea whose time has come.
“A lot of people that are wandering around saying, ‘This is the end of times for the Earth,’ and it’s all bad,” said Tumlinson. “We’re just saying, ‘Look up, people…we’re on a little rock surrounded by immeasurable amounts of materials and resources.”
The company’s mission statement calls for the space exploration community to “harness the power of a new age of information to locate, explore, harvest and utilize the vast numbers of asteroids in Earth’s community.”
Weighing only about 55 pounds, the “FireFly” spacecraft utilize low-cost components and get discounted delivery to space by piggybacking on the launch of larger communications satellites on their way to journeys lasting from between two to six months.
Starting in 2016, DSI will begin launching 70-pound DragonFlies for round-trip visits that bring back samples from neighboring asteroids. The DragonFly expeditions will take two to four years, depending on the target.
But Tumlinson said landing and mining a space rock is just the first step.
“Keep in mind, we’re not just gonna go out there and look, we’re not just gonna go out there and capture, we’re also looking at processes for how do you extract metals, how do you extract the hydrogen and oxygen, and how do you turn those into useful objects and materials,” he said.
As for ownership of any materials discovered, Tumlinson compared the surge in private space exploration to the California gold rush “times a million” and said that any legal issues should be left to the experts.
“As usual, the lawyers are gonna have a great time with this one, but basically, it’s wide open out there,” he said.