But Deep Space Industries plans on mining in space for in-space purposes. Gravity is much less of a problem on an asteroid, and once you get away from the expense of getting heavy and large volumes of necessities off of Earth, replenishing space missions becomes relatively cheap. Not outstandingly cheap, of course, because it’s still space and there are start-up costs to consider, but a definite improvement down the line.
DSI also has plans of mining metals from asteroids in order to make replacement parts for technology already in space, which is incredibly awesome. If something breaks in space, it’s defunct until the part is sent from Earth and replaced. This means people have to decide if the value of whatever broke down is worth the cost of repair and the cost of pushing up against Earth’s gravity. This sort of dilemma occurred when the Hubble kept having problems in the 1990s, and people nearly decided no – it wasn’t worth the cost. (Which it completely was, and would have been less of an issue if something like DSI had been up and running back then.)
In the long-term, provided DSI has a long term, it can even self-generate mining stations for other, further out asteroids. You really can’t beat a business plan where you can use free resources to create extensions of your mining equipment that can go, find new asteroids, and begin making new extensions with new free resources. The only things standing in the way is the as-yet fairly limited evolution of artificial intelligence and the coming wave of space laws (we all know that it’s coming, and that it’s going to hit hard).
And this sort of thing – mining in space for in-space uses – makes a whole lot of sense, definitely more than off-Earth mining for on-Earth uses. Just as it’s expensive to get things up into space, it’s troublesome to get things down to Earth safely and without damage. It’s also not terribly cost efficient. We’re nowhere near the point of desperately needing metals, oxygen, or water from space – and by the time we are, it’s probably going to be too late to start this kind of thing. Space mining and terrestrial mining, at least for a while, are going to be on different scales of expense, and terrestrial demand doesn’t yet justify that kind of cost.
With any luck, outer space demand will, and that’s why DSI’s premise is risky. NASA, ESA, JAXA, and countries like Iran and India plan on getting heavy into space travel. Iran just successfully brought back a monkey from sub-space orbit and has plans of sending someone to the moon; the United States is planning for long-term exploratory missions and maybe even a moon base. But all of these are plans rather than a steady stream of reality, and a business with huge start-up costs needs more than that. So while their ideas about supplying parts for space technology, fuel, water, and oxygen are cool and logical, and will hopefully stay successful once it really gets going, it has to really get going first.
As it stands, Deep Space Industries has a pretty ambitious list of things to achieve in the next few years. As of 2015, the company will send out unmanned Fireflies (and wasn’t that a wise choice in name to garner sci-fi fans everywhere?) to assess the material resources of nearby asteroids. Then Dragonflies will bring samples back to Earth for more rigorous analysis.
In 2020, just seven years from now, DSI hopes to be able to start sending out their Harvestors, which will actually begin the mining work. That’s ridiculously soon, but I really hope they make that deadline – not only will getting started sooner mean awesome things will continue to increase in number during my lifetime, but 2020 is the date for several other aerospace plans and DSI needs that market to stay afloat.
But right now, Deep Space Industries is at the 'announcing they exist and generating computer models' stage. The likelihood of the company’s success is a complete unknown, but their hypothetical success would be an integral part of future space travel.
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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.