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back to article Asteroid-mining 'FireFlys' will be ready for action by 2015, vows space firm

A second commercial venture to mine the near infinite resources of outer space has been started, and Deep Space Industries (DSI) is promising its spacecraft and 3D printers will allow successful mining operations within a decade. The venture says that it will have its first class of 55lb (25kg) "FireFly" probes ready for action …

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Terminator

They have arrived!

The process sees powdered nickel ore fed into the system, which is then formed into units of solid metal, and can also be used to make tools and replacement parts.

Self replicating machines are here! Look out.

Now where is my tinfoil hat?

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Re: They have arrived!

Are you sure that's not tinfoil, and not a sintered metal powder brain/computer interface....?

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Thumb Up

Re: They have arrived!

"can also be used to make tools and replacement parts"

That's the way to go, I like the vision even though I think the timeframe they're proposing for it is over-ambitious

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Meh

Re: They have arrived!

Looking for gullible investors......

Quick way to make money

1. Promote asteroid mining

2. Promise short time scale get rich quick scheme

3. Rake in the investment

4. Buy expensive houses and cars

5. Extend time scale ask for more investment because they are so close to starting

6. Rake in more investments

7. Buy more expensive cars and houses

8. Extend timescale ask for more investment

9. Investment dries up

10. Go bust, retire on proceeds bought from investments

Mandoff would be proud of you.

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Anonymous Coward

Death Star

A Death Star will be necessary to protect all asteroid mining projects from alien attack.

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Joke

Re: They have arrived!

You missed:

2a. Name it after a much-loved cult Sci-Fi series, in order to pull in the geek crowd

Now, where do I send my cheque?

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Meh

bubblespace

a bunch of VC cash because space is sexy and the internet is all mined out. Where's the ROI?

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Re: bubblespace

I'm tempted to play along. Coming soon "Kickstarter Mine Thee Asteroidehs" from the Code Monkey Dept of Wacky Scams.

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Meh

Refuelling geosynchronous satellites.

Cheaper fuel, all well and good, but there is one question that needs to be answered.

How many geosynchronous satellites have a refuelling capability?

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Re: Refuelling geosynchronous satellites.

Well, I guess one response is that new satellites, at least, can be given that capability. But I guess that if you have a sufficiently adaptable refuelling robot then it's just a matter of how much you need to dismantle a satellite to get to the necessary plumbing. For owners of satellites which are about to need their final boost into retirement orbit it could be worth a shot especially as, by then, DSI will have the tech to take it to retirement orbit if they break it (or there are too many spare nuts left over)

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Happy

Re: Refuelling geosynchronous satellites.

That's a real good point about refuelling but the more I think about it the easier I bet it will be. Satellite fuel (assuming Hydrazine) is really nasty stuff, heavily toxic, highly corrosive and surprisingly unstable. My guess is that when they go up they would want to fill them on or as close to the pad as possible which I guess would require easy to access refuelling gear already in place on the bird.

I’d be fascinated how this actually works, any satellite engineers out there care to enlighten us?

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Bronze badge

Re: Refuelling - a diversion tactic

The mention of refuelling satellites is there to divert attention from one of the major flaws of this scam. It's a variant of a standard tactic in confidence tricks.

There is no mention of how the problem is solved of providing the large quantity of fuel required during the six months that the firefly is to scoot around prospecting. There is no explanation of how the firefly could travel so far and so fast. But once the idea is planted that it can collect fuel as easily as pulling into a petrol station many people overlook the glaring problem and continue with the fantasy.

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Boffin

Re: Refuelling geosynchronous satellites.

"really nasty stuff, heavily toxic, highly corrosive"

True

"surprisingly unstable"

Incorrect. it's only unstable in the sense it makes a poor coolant for combustion chambers relative to other fuels. It replaced Hydrogen Peroxide due to its stability. HTP was stable but not relative to NTO and the Hydrazines.

Standard loading to satellites is by sealed systems that usually have explosive valves to keep the 2 hypergolic compounds sealed from the atmosphere and separate from each other.

Satellite refueling has been investigated since the early 80s by NASA. You also need to mfg these compounds in orbit so this is an ISRU problem as well. I've no idea how well this has been investigated.

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Re: Refuelling geosynchronous satellites.

Once in place, the satellites only need relatively small "nudges" to maintain position, or to start moving in the direction of a new location, and then a few small nudges to slow down and stop once they get to the new location. So it should be possible to attach small, impulse devices to the outside of the satellite, with it's own small fuel tank. That's what I understood the references to the nickel fabrication in the Micro G Foundry was about - the Dragonflies would be able to build relatively simple impulse engines and fill them with fuel, which could then be attached to existing satellites.

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Meh

Re: Refuelling geosynchronous satellites.

Another elephant in this room is that if on-orbit fuel poundage cost really were a Big, Fat, Hairy Deal for satellite lifespan then mechanisms to solve that already exist. Using mercury ion thrusters rather than chemical ones is an obvious approach, run for years on a miniscule amount of reaction mass and the "fuel" is electricity from the sat's solar panels.

I have to suspect that the lifespan is actually dictated by the MTBF of the sat's major components and the fuelling provided is what's sufficient to keep it on station for the planned life and then deorbit it. Prolonging the life with refuelling would offer no advantage as it would still be necessary to have provisioned its on-orbit replacement, as the thing could drop dead for a variety of other reasons at any moment. You might just as well cutover to the replacement, getting the most out of that's life and sunset the old bird, as is done now.

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Terminator

Didn't I read this story before

After they ship up the mining equipment, then they ship up the autonomous self repairing computer systems to guide the robo-miners, then after a few generations of self repair they build a ship and fly off to deep space to hunt down a richer ore field leaving us behind. And giving us the robo-finger on their way out...

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Boffin

Re: Didn't I read this story before

Can't get much beyond asteroid belt without fusion reactors. Kuiper belt is already too cold and too dark for solar power, and I don't know how much fissionables you can find there (if any).

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Alien

Nice idea, but...

let me see a working prototype and I might believe these guys are in with a chance. I wouldn't hold my breath though, specially since they seem to expect serious investment from outside.

Concerning the geosynchronous sats, there would be a business case in that - if such sats were designed to be refuelled in space, which they are not. They don't typically even have a handle for the fueller to hold on to. What's more I still don't see anyone creating complex nitrogen-based chemicals from asteroids that don't even contain nitrogen.

With the orbiting solar power, who knows, it might just be workable; provided of course the aliens don't swat those fireflies first!

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Mushroom

Its all fun and Games

Until some self replicating robot figures out they can make many more copies of itself and go and start digging up the blue rock 3rd from the sun.

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Happy

On the refuelling issue I guess until satellites are built for refuelling you'd have to create a sapce tug to move them to the desired location. I assume that all satellites must still have the hard contact points used for launch still on them so wouldn't a space tug just attach there and drag em into position?

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Anonymous Coward

GeoSats - not necessary to refuel

It's not strictly needed that a geosync sat be built to refuel in order to extend its lifespan - a "strap on" booster could be designed to work (yes, you need to be very good about getting the center of thrust to be aligned with the center of mass of the bird).

BUT: getting from Earth surface to the surface of any near Earth object (and remaining intact when you do!) is a great deal of delta-V - and delta-V is what is expensive in space. Just getting a probe to the rock is hard. THEN, you have the extra delta-V of getting whatever was useful on the rock back to geosync orbit is even harder.

I wish them all the success in (and out of) the world, and I would actually kick in on a Kickstarter for this (because my philosophy is to assume a Kickstarter will fail), but you can bet I wouldn't make this my only retirement investment.

(but I would take a flier with some of my investment funds - *if* it paid off, you could be pretty well set.)

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Silver badge

Re: GeoSats - not necessary to refuel

I would have thought solar sails were perfect for keeping GeoSats where they are needed

And as for getting fuel into space I'm sure a supergun would be the cheapest way of doing it so longs as its NIMBY

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Re: GeoSats - not necessary to refuel

So far the best supergun has been able to put about 1 kg up about 100 miles.

As in straight up, and straight back down again. Getting to orbital/escape velocity is another matter altogether and atmospheric friction resulting from a non-vertical launch angle - needed for anything except sounding charges - pretty much guarantees you'd never hit orbital velocities this way.

OTOH a suitable supergun and a small impulse engine (rocket) might work wonders.

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Boffin

Cheap fuel on orbit

May be the key to kick starting the commercialisation of space.

There are lots of old satellites in parking orbits, now they may not be able to refuel them as:

A: They weren't designed for it.

B: Their systems are probably dead.

However they do possess a lot of processed materials that have the potential to be recycled, this is currently not cost effective due to launch costs, I.e. it's cheaper to put a new unit it up, than trying to recover old units.

But... If fuel was available relatively cheaply for recovery machines to move them to a location (on orbit) where the materials could be reused the capability to create on orbit systems may start to appear.

Given current launch costs this could potentially be quite lucrative.

I realise this is very idealistic, but at the same time if there is no dreaming then we will never get there.

The main issue I forsee is that existing satellites use hydrazine for thruster fuel, making hydrazine on orbit may be a challenge and that units intended for refuelling may need technology updates beyond the refuelling mechanisms.

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Coat

Shiny!

- mines the brown one...

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Coat

Re: Shiny!

You can't take this guy from me...

What?

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FAIL

God, I hate it when they name projects after SciFi characters/contraptions

It's lame.

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Headmaster

Re: God, I hate it when they name projects after SciFi characters/contraptions

Almost as much as when people make comments like that without reading the article itself, especially when it clearly states that's precisely what they didn't do.

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Re: God, I hate it when they name projects after SciFi characters/contraptions

That kinda denial is a standard line to avoid copyright infringement from the likes of Fox.....

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Re: God, I hate it when they name projects after SciFi characters/contraptions

They could have called it "Butt-head astronomer".

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Go asteroid mining? Really?

Yeah.

And I'd like to be the king of all Londinium, and wear a shiny hat.

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Happy

Re: Go asteroid mining? Really?

PLOT TWIST: Lee Harvey Osmond is actually Prince Charles.

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Thumb Up

I love the idea even if it isn't going to happen.

Taking 4 years to mine 68Kg of anything hardly seems cost effective. Unless asteroids contain some cool-as-fuck-ium element not found on Earth.

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Happy

I think it is called unobtanium (or was it narrativium?)

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Happy

If these FireFlys don't resemble Serenity.

im not interested. :D

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Happy

Re: If these FireFlys don't resemble Serenity.

As long as there is an image of Morena Baccarin down the side like an old US WW2 bomber I will support the program.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm sure I've heard this somewhere before...

Beware, I live!

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Paris Hilton

Re: I'm sure I've heard this somewhere before...

You feel it's just a little sinister?

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I'm going to treat them to a "Full English" at Milliways

Seeing as how they claim to have cracked a few very hard problems, and to be commercialising it right next year, and in space too, they're surely on the guest list:

http://www.oocities.org/hitch_hikers_guide_to_the_galaxy/episode5a.jpg

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Anonymous Coward

First steps

Yes this is primitive but it's the way to go, if we want to get away from having to boost large amounts of finite resources into orbit the obvious answer is to use the one's already out there, and that means advanced robotics and manufacturing if only to avoid the nastier effects of space on humans.

A Mars mission or a moon base becomes infinitely easier and risk free if any visiting astronauts or cosmonauts have ready built environments built with hopefully water, oxygen, communications and energy already in place.

I can only hope this venture is a success or delivers enough benefits to progress the concept, the future exploitation of space depends on it, the one major downside though if it succeeds is that companies on Earth would adopt the technology in a heartbeat potentially making many manual jobs obsolete.

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Holmes

Re: First steps

Just a few trivial questions before I invest: Where does the energy for the smelting of ores come from? What is the plan for providing energy for feeding the 3D metalworks printer? What's the chemistry for extracting the oxidant for the fuels - and where does the energy come from? How about a pilot plant on Earth - just to demonstrate the technology?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: First steps

Why don't you ask the research team working on this? I just said it's a good idea, I wasn't making fatuous comments dismissing any idea just to look clever on the internet where nobody cares anyway.

If they succeed we'll know about it if they don't human experience has been pushed a little further regarding the problems of working in and exploiting off world resources

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Alien

I'll believe it when I see it

I think that you can get these landers onto asteroids and extract the ores necessary, but I'm a bit skeptical that you can A) process those ores in space to the standards of purity needed for the self-replicating satellites to use and B) that you can get a good automated self-replicating satellite/probe/orbital factory up there with current technology that is available to get to orbit--in short I think that a working self-replicator would be too heavy.

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Joke

Firefly, Dragonfly....

Whats next, Horsefly, Housefly and an elephant fly...

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Happy

Well given the severe funding and technology issues how about we call the first one the mayfly.

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I've done seen about everrrrry-thing when I've seen an elephant fly!!

Of course you'll need to get Disney to agree to let you use the rights....

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@ John Smith

Boom boom!

/basilbrush

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Trollface

FireFly leads...

DragonFly lands...

BotFly bores into the asteroid and can only be retrieved by duck-taping over the hole to force it to emerge.

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How to profit

Step 1) Mine asteroids.

Step 2) Use raw materials to build structures in space

Step 3) Sell seats on those obit built space ships.

Step 4) If that doesn't work, have your robotic workers (programmed to be completely loyal to you, of course) to build an array of fracking big space guns pointed at all the world's major cities and hold the world for ransom for one trillion dollars. It is essential to raise your pinky finger to your lips and laugh maniacally after making your demand. It helps if you have a bald cat to.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How to profit

Major downside to that plan is your slick assistant with the eye patch reminding you that $1m is peanuts these days and that you make more from your legitimate operations

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