Perhaps looking to space for more resources has all the making of a Sci Fi movie, but it also is reality, thanks to the minds at Deep Space Industries. Orbital Economics point to the untapped resources held by outer space and specifically the NEA (Near-Earth Asteroids). These asteroids number in the several thousands.
Sound Sci Fi so far? Wait for the details. In 2015 they plan on sending an unmanned spacecraft named Firefly to explore asteroids near Earth and pick some likely targets. Next up, DragonFly, their craft that will bring back samples.( 2016-2020)
If this pans out, look out! A Microgravity Foundry, a 3-D printing technology that uses nickel-charged gas to print in zero gravity, large communication platforms, and a solar power station to beam carbon-free energy back to Earth are all on the chalkboard.
DSI is not reinventing the wheel here as the technology exists to not only travel to an asteroid but to land and grab a sample and then return. However, they do have an arduous task ahead of them as they seek to enable a faster and cheaper, more cost effective asteroid mining process; a process that will be done robotically in microgravity. Here science is king. While on Earth many of these processes are more fundamental using manual labor and extraction, physics and chemistry hold the answers for the space-miner. Human input for these missions needs to be limited due to signal latencies so advances in the area of AI are important.
Who will be the customers for these products? Consider that the products from the carbonaceous asteroids will be distilled into propellant which can then be used by space stations, commercial habitats, communication satellites, or fueling up crewed space agency missions such as a mission to Mars. – allow me to comment on that, a mission to Mars would necessitate a rather large amount of fuel which would weigh more to go through our atmosphere hence require more fuel. How much better would it be to have the option of obtaining the extra fuel once already having obtained space?
Dreamers, definitely as just visit the DSI web site and read their message, visionaries, likely, helping to get us all to the future so far only in our minds, definitely.