Asteroid miner Deep Space to launch first commercial mission by 2020

US-based asteroid mining firm Deep Space Industries (DSI) is planning to send a prospecting spacecraft before the end of the decade to search for resources in celestial bodies, which would become the first commercial mission beyond Earth's orbit.

The company, based in Mountain View, California, said its Prospector-1 — a 50-kg satellite — was designed to visit a nearby asteroid and look for deposits of water ice that could, in the future, be mined and used as fuel by other spacecraft.

The water-propelled vehicle will look for ice and water sources, which could be key for future space mining crafts as they could potentially "refuel" in space, using water gathered from asteroids.

The spacecraft, to be propelled by water, will expels hot water vapour to move forward, according to DSI. That’s important because it means that future water-propelled mining vehicles could potentially "refuel" in space, using water gathered from asteroids.

“We can (now) say with confidence that we have the right technology, the right team and the right plan to execute this historic mission,” said Rick Tumlinson, chairman of the board and co-founder of Deep Space Industries. “Building on our Prospector-X mission, Prospector-1 will be the next step on our way to harvesting asteroid resources.”

While the company did not disclose specific dates for the Prospector-1 mission, it said it has identified several departure windows every year from 2019 to 2022, depending on the asteroids they choose to visit.

Asteroid miner Deep Space to launch first commercial mission by 2020

Prospector-1 is a 50-kg spacecraft that uses superheated water as propellant. (Image courtesy of DSI)

Prior to that, Deep Space will send an experimental mission in partnership with the government of Luxembourg, which was announced last May. In that exercise, the smaller Prospector-X will test key technologies needed for low-cost extra-terrestrial mining exploration. That mission is scheduled to launch in 2017.

Deep Space was the second company to jump into the asteroid mining business. The first one was the billionaire-backed Planetary Resources, unveiled in 2012.

Geologists believe asteroids are packed with iron ore, nickel and precious metals at much higher concentrations than those found on Earth, making up a market valued in the trillions of dollars.