US-based asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries (DSI) has recently revealed a new spacecraft called Prospector-X.
The spacecraft, which takes the form of a small satellite, will be used to test a number of new technologies which will be useful for future asteroid mining.
DSI, which is funded in part by the Government of Luxembourg, aims to eventually capture and harvest mineral resources on asteroids.
The Prospector-X craft will be built as a small “nanosatellite”, likely based off the popular CubeSat design.
According to information released by the company, it will be produced in DSI’s new headquarters in Luxembourg, with assistance from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability, and Trust at the University of Luxembourg.
“We have been impressed by Luxembourg’s tangible actions to lead the creation of an asteroid resource economy,” said Daniel Faber, CEO of DSI
“The opportunity to partner with Luxembourg on Prospector-X allows a number of the key technologies for cost-effective deep space operations to be rapidly flight-tested in advance of more complex missions. We are also excited to be bringing that performance and reliability to the small satellite market.”
Slated for launch in 2017, Prospector-X will test technologies in Low Earth Orbit which will be used in future space missions.
These technologies include an innovative water-based propulsion system which can make use of locally harvested resources.
Additionally, Prospector-X will test a new optical navigation system, and avionics optimized for the harsh environment of deep space.
Should these tests be successful, Prospector-X will be followed by Prospector-1, a larger craft designed to travel to a nearby asteroid and survey its mineralogy.
This survey will be followed by a soft landing on the asteroid, where further tests of its make-up will be conducted.
If the asteroid is found to be rich in valuable minerals, it would then become a candidate to be harvested by a much larger spacecraft which would follow Prospector-1.
Nonetheless, it still remains to be seen if asteroid mining, as envisaged by DSI, can ever be economical, given the huge cost of sending large spacecraft far from Earth.