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Роботы-геологи штурмуют астероидThe company Deep Space Industries engaged in the development of the project of extraction of minerals from asteroids. To use this document and orbital robotic explorers, which will determine the value of cosmic bodies from the point of view of the presence of rare earth materials. The first unit is planned to be launched in two years.

The idea of using the asteroids in similar purposes, originated long ago. For example, in the beginning of last year the co-owner of the company Space Adventures and member of the Civic Supervisory Board NASA Richard garriot at the SXSW conference in Austin (Texas) indicated that in the immediate vicinity of the Earth's loose many asteroids that might contain valuable materials. The current level of technology allows the identification of these minerals and ores, after which it will be possible to organize an expedition for the purpose of their delivery to the Ground, he said.

To establish production from the subsoil of asteroids minerals, such as platinum, iridium and rhodium, suggested the company Planetary Resources. In the coming years Planetary Resources plans to launch two to five telescopes to space-based Arkyd-101, which will help find the most suitable for these purposes the asteroid. And the main phase of the project is scheduled for 30 years.

At a recent seminar organized by the space research Institute of KEK (USA), discussed the idea of taking one of these cosmic bodies, passing near the Earth, in order to place it in orbit around the moon and to use the resources of the asteroid for different needs.

By the most conservative estimate, such a project would cost $ 2.6 billion, that is comparable in price with Mars mission Curiosity. As in the case of Curiosity, it is proposed to use for the launch of the Atlas V rocket, the first stage of which is equipped with Russian engines. After orbiting work xenon ion engine that are powered by solar cells with a capacity of 40 kW. Slowly gaining speed, the machine will go to a nearby asteroid, take it and will albuquerue on the lunar orbit.

If to speak about "medium" cosmic body weight 500 tons, it will contain about 200 tons of silicates, 100 tons of water, 100 tons of various carbon compounds and, finally, 90 tons of metals such as iron, Nickel and cobalt. This "container" minerals could be used for the construction of the space base in Lagrange point L2, which is 61 thousand kilometers from the moon.

However, the most promising recognized as yet, the project proposed Deep Space. The first model "geological" robot will be called FireFу "Firefly". Robots with a mass of about 25 kilograms should go into space by 2015. The duration will be from two to six months.

In the future Deep Space plans to create a whole "fleet" such robots. In the process of construction FireFу will apply the latest achievements of NASA. "Fireflies" will be based on inexpensive components of nanosatellites. To launch them will be together with large communications satellites, which will reduce the cost of operation.

Once on orbit, robots will study the nearby asteroids for the presence of valuable rare materials. If the first attempts will be successful, then starting from 2016 Deep Space launch 30-kilogram satellites DragonFly, which must deliver to Earth asteroid samples of the material. The mission DragonFly will last from two to six years, and during this time they will be able to bring to the Earth from 27 to 70 kilograms of raw materials.

In addition, Deep Space has a patented technology of MicroGravity Foundry (microgravity casting), which allows to process the extracted valuable raw material in metal parts for complex devices. To do this, use a three-dimensional printer, able to draw laser patterns in the gas medium, steamy Nickel. Today it is the only technology capable of producing complex metal structures in conditions of weightlessness.

If the company will be able not only to successfully implement the process of extraction of raw materials, but also to transform it into a finished product in the form of technical details, the expected profit from the project will increase many times. And MicroGravity Foundry can be useful not only when working with asteroids, but also in other, larger projects, say, in the mission to Mars.
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