Tag Archives: asteroid mining

There’s Increased Worldwide Interest in Asteroid and Moon Mining Missions

In my 31 December 2015 post, “Legal Basis Established for U.S. Commercial Space Launch Industry Self-regulation and Commercial Asteroid Mining,” I commented on the likely impact of the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,” (2015 Space Act) which was signed into law on 25 November 2016. A lot has happened since then.

Planetary Resources building technology base for commercial asteroid prospecting

The firm Planetary Resources (Redmond, Washington) has a roadmap for developing a working space-based prospecting system built on the following technologies:

  • Space-based observation systems: miniaturization of hyperspectral sensors and mid-wavelength infrared sensors.
  • Low-cost avionics software: tiered and modular spacecraft avionics with a distributed set of commercially-available, low-level hardened elements each handling local control of a specific spacecraft function.
  • Attitude determination and control systems: distributed system, as above
  • Space communications: laser communications
  • High delta V small satellite propulsion systems: “Oberth maneuver” (powered flyby) provides most efficient use of fuel to escape Earth’s gravity well

Check out their short video, “Why Asteroids Fuel Human Expansion,” at the following link:


 Planetary Resources videoSource: Planetary Resources

For more information, visit the Planetary Resources home page at the following link:


Luxembourg SpaceResources.lu Initiative and collaboration with Planetary Resources

On 3 November 2016, Planetary Resources announced funding and a target date for their first asteroid mining mission:

“Planetary Resources, Inc. …. announced today that it has finalized a 25 million euro agreement that includes direct capital investment of 12 million euros and grants of 13 million euros from the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the banking institution Société Nationale de Crédit et d’Investissement (SNCI). The funding will accelerate the company’s technical advancements with the aim of launching the first commercial asteroid prospecting mission by 2020. This milestone fulfilled the intent of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Grand Duchy and its SpaceResources.lu initiative that was agreed upon this past June.”

The homepage for Luxembourg’s SpaceResources.lu Initiative is at the following link:


Here the Grand-Duchy announced its intent to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources.

“Luxembourg is the first European country to set out a formal legal framework which ensures that private operators working in space can be confident about their rights to the resources they extract, i.e. valuable resources from asteroids. Such a legal framework will be worked out in full consideration of international law. The Grand-Duchy aims to participate with other nations in all relevant fora in order to agree on a mutually beneficial international framework.”

Remember the book, “The Mouse that Roared?” Well, here’s Luxembourg leading the European Union (EU) into the business of asteroid mining.

European Space Agency (ESA) cancels Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM)

ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) was planning to send a small spacecraft to a pair of co-orbital asteroids, Didymoon and Didymos, in 2022. Among other goals, this ESA mission was intended to observe the NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test when it impacts Didymoon at high speed. ESA mission profile for AIM is described at the following link:


On 2 Dec 2016, ESA announced that AIM did not win enough support from member governments and will be cancelled. Perhaps the plans for an earlier commercial asteroid mission marginalized the value of the ESA investment in AIM.

Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announces collaboration for lunar resource prospecting, production and delivery

On 16 December 2016, JAXA announced that it will collaborate with the private lunar exploration firm, ispace, Inc. to prospect for lunar resources and then eventually build production and resource delivery facilities on the Moon.

ispace is a member of Japan’s Team Hakuto, which is competing for the Google Lunar XPrize. Team Hakuto describes their mission as follows:

“In addition to the Grand Prize, Hakuto will be attempting to win the Range Bonus. Furthermore, Hakuto’s ultimate target is to explore holes that are thought to be caves or “skylights” into underlying lava tubes, for the first time in human history.  These lava tubes could prove to be very important scientifically, as they could help explain the moon’s volcanic past. They could also become candidate sites for long-term habitats, able to shield humans from the moon’s hostile environment.”

Hakuto is facing the challenges of the Google Lunar XPRIZE and skylight exploration with its unique ‘Dual Rover’ system, consisting of two-wheeled ‘Tetris’ and four-wheeled ‘Moonraker.’ The two rovers are linked by a tether, so that Tetris can be lowered into a suspected skylight.”

Hakuto rover-with-tail

Team Hakuto dual rover. Source: ispace, Inc.

So far, the team has won one Milestone Prize worth $500,000 and must complete its lunar mission by the end of 2017 in order to be eligible for the final prizes. You can read more about Team Hakuto and their rover on the Google Lunar XPrize website at the following link:


Building on this experience, and apparently using the XPrize rover, ispace has proposed the following roadmap to the moon (click on the graphic to enlarge).

ispace lunar roadmapSource: ispace, Inc.

This ambitious roadmap offers an initial lunar resource utilization capability by 2030. Ice will be the primary resource sought on the Moon. Ispace reports:

“According to recent studies, the Moon houses an abundance of precious minerals on its surface, and an estimated 6 billion tons of water ice at its poles. In particular, water can be broken down into oxygen and hydrogen to produce efficient rocket fuel. With a fuel station established in space, the world will witness a revolution in the space transportation system.”

The ispace website is at the following link:




First Ever 3D Printed Object Made From Asteroid / Meteorite Metals

In a 31 December 2015 post, I discussed the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act,” which was signed into law on 25 November 2015 and established, among other things, the legal basis for asteroid mining. I also identified the firm Planetary Resources (http://www.planetaryresources.com/ – home-intro) as one of the firms having a business interest in asteroid prospecting.

Today, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) today in Las Vegas, Planetary Resources announced that they, in collaboration with their partner firm, 3D Systems (http://www.3dsystems.com), have produced the first ever direct metal print of an object using metals recovered from an asteroid (or meteorite) that impacted Earth.

PlanetaryResources_3DSystems_Meteorite2_LOW-680x355 Source: Planetary Resources

In the Planetary Resources announcement, they stated that the material used for 3D printing:

  • “…was sourced from the Campo Del Cielo impact near Argentina, and is composed of iron, nickel and cobalt – similar materials to refinery grade steel.”
  • “ …was pulverized, powdered and (then) processed on the new 3D Systems ProX DMP 320 metals 3D printer.”

You can read the announcement at the following link:


You can read more about the ProX DMP 320 3D printer at the following link:


The milestone announced today demonstrates a key capability needed for building research bases and commercial facilities in space using raw materials found on another body in our solar system.

Imagine what the cargo manifest will be on future space missions to destinations that have useful natural resources that can be mined and prepared on site for use in various 3D printing (additive manufacturing) activities. The early missions will need to carry pre-fabricated structures for an initial base, tools for initial mining and manufacturing work, other items manufactured on Earth, and consumables. Once the on-site mining and manufacturing facilities reach an initial operating capability, the extended supply chain from Earth can be reduced commensurate with the capabilities of the local supply chain.

For more background information on this subject, National Academies Press published the  report, “3D Printing in Space”, which you can download for free at the following link if you have set up a MyNAP account:


18871-0309310083-450  Source:  NAP

Opportunities for 3D printing in space addressed in this NAP report include: manufacturing new or replacement parts needed on a space vehicle or off-Earth facility; creating structures that are difficult to produce on, or transport from, Earth; creating a fully-printed spacecraft; using resources available on planetary surfaces; recycling materials in space; and establishing a free-flying fabrication facility.  The report also includes roadmaps for NASA and the U.S. Air Force deployment of 3D printing capabilities in space.

This is just the start. Manufacturing in space using locally sourced materials will revolutionize our approach for building a permanent human presence off the planet Earth.


Legal Basis Established for U.S. Commercial Space Launch Industry Self-regulation and Commercial Asteroid Mining

On 25 November 2015, the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act” was signed into law, and fundamentally changed the commercial U.S. space industry. The law consists of four parts:

  • Title I: “Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Act of 2015,” or, “SPACE Act of 2015”
    • Limits regulation of the commercial space launch industry for the next decade.
    • Rather than increasing government regulations now, the U.S. commercial space transportation industry is charged with developing, “voluntary consensus standards or any other construction that promotes best practices.”
    • Beginning on December 31, 2025, DOT may propose new regulations
  • Title II addresses DOT’s authority to license private sector parties to operate private remote sensing space systems.
  • Title III renames the Office of Space Commercialization as the Office of Space Commerce and specifies the roles of this office.
  • Title IV: “Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015,” specifies:
    • “Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained them, which shall be entitled to all property rights to them, consistent with applicable federal law and existing international obligations.”
    • “A U.S. commercial space resource utilization entity:
      • Shall avoid causing harmful interference in outer space, and
      • May bring a civil action in a U.S. district court for any action by another entity subject to U.S. jurisdiction causing harmful interference to its operations with respect to an asteroid resource utilization activity in outer space.”
    • This Act includes a “Disclaimer of Extraterritorial Sovereignty”
      • While commercial rights are specified in the Act, the U.S. “does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.”

You can read a summary and the entire Act at the following link:


To get a perspective on potential opportunities for asteroid mining, check out Asterank, which is a database on over 600,000 asteroids at the following link:


Many are “near-Earth” asteroids, with orbits that approach or cross Earth’s orbit.

Asterank screenshotSource: Asterank

Asterank includes important data such as asteroid mass, composition, and estimates of the costs and rewards of mining specific asteroids. Asterank was created and is maintained by Ian Webster. The firm Planetary Resources acquired Asterank in May 2013.

Once you’ve determined your target asteroid, you can plan to fetch it with the help of the 2012 “Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study” by the Keck Institute for Space Studies, which you can download from the following link:


Planetary Resources’ business focus is on Earth observation and asteroid prospecting. You can read about the technologies they currently are developing to support asteroid prospecting at the following link:


As noted by Planetary Resources, “near-Earth asteroids are the “low hanging fruit of the Solar System.” Their website identified eight candidate targets of interest.

With the reduced regulatory risk offered by the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, investors are certain to take a more favorable view toward making long-term investments in commercial launch vehicles and asteroid mining technologies. It will be years before commercial asteroid prospecting missions become a reality and much longer before the real economics of asteroid mining are known. Asteroid mining will require very large, long-term investments, but this isn’t science fiction any more.