Firefly Probes to Search Space for Mineable Asteroids

“The harvest of space is going to be the biggest industrial transformation in human history, but it will not happen overnight.”

Deep Space Industries (DSi) announced Tuesday its plans to send a fleet of robotic satellites into space. The satellites, or Firefly spacecraft, are scheduled to leave Earth in 2015 and identify mineable asteroids. The company will work with established space organizations and partners to get off the ground (pun intended), and identify areas in space that might offer greater opportunities during their maiden voyage. Firefly models aren’t intended to return to Earth, these models will only transmit data gathered on reconnaissance missions.

Artist rendition of Firefly satellites

CubeSat technology is being utilized for DSi’s first Firefly missions. It’s a standard that universities developed to economically launch experimental payloads into space. Typically composed of common commercial electronics, CubeSat is a type of miniaturized satellite for space research.

I’ve personally worked a bit with CubeSat tech, it’s low cost and provides a relatively easy platform to engineer systems for microgravity.

By raising funding from private investors and attempting to turn a profit from low Earth orbit (LEO) supply ventures, DSi is attempting to position itself as a leader in space resource harvesting, utilization, and manufacturing. Here is a promotional DSi video to get all you space nerds, me included, pumped up.


Plans for the Future

In addition to the Firefly missions, DSi is planning on expanding on the Firefly model by including asteroid fragment capture tools and the capability of returning back to LEO after missions. Referred to as the Dragonfly, these advanced models will bring back the very first collected payloads of asteroid material for research, processing, and sale.

Following in the footsteps of Dragonfly, DSi plans to move in to full-scale commercial operation with its Harvestor-class asteroid collection missions. These missions are planned to return thousands of tons per year of asteroid material. Initially, materials harvested and processed will only be available to customers already operating in space, but as costs come down, DSi plans to begin exporting materials back to Earth.

No official dates have been released for the Dragonfly, or Harvestor missions as their execution is dependent on funding resources and the success of the Firefly expeditions.


What This Means for the Future of Space Exploration

Baby steps are definitely better than nothing. While DSi might become a leader in space resource harvesting and manufacturing, they might not too. There are too many factors that could facilitate, or hinder their growth. One thing is for certain, we’re spending more time developing the science and tools required to live, work, and travel in space. DSi and other space-based startups are the beginning of an industry that, at least in my opinion, will become larger than any other we’ve ever witnessed.

Do you agree? Leave your comments, or questions below. Let’s talk about it.

Want to build your own CubeSat? Get started here.

Chase Williams

Chase is a serial entrepreneur, electrical engineer, writer, and self-proclaimed techie. He enjoys to travel, hike, kayak, and learn new languages. He's been weightless on-board a NASA C9-B aircraft and his head hasn't quite come back down from the upper atmosphere. To keep up with his low-oxygen chatter, follow him on Twitter @ChaseHWill

  • James C. Gammage

    Michio Kaku said it himself in his book, “Physics of the Future.”

    The spaceships that make it first across the interstellar void to other star systems may not even be carrying humans. They’ll more than likely be tiny ships constructed in space. Nano-ships even.

    Opening up the civilian sector for space exploration is definitely the first steps in exciting developments for humanity’s first forays into the stars.

    I’ll definitely be paying attention to this with interest to see where it leads.