The First Space Mining Mission Is a Go

The first space mining mission has been announced. Could it change the fortunes of the planet and one small European nation?

An illustration of DSI’s ambitious space mining plan.

An illustration of DSI’s ambitious space mining plan.

In the 1990s film Total Recall, Mars has been colonized by an evil corporation hell-bent on stripping the planet of turbinium, an element that’s supposedly fueling some far-off war effort. Now, Total Recall is absolute fiction (and maybe one of the best movies of all time), but the idea of space mining has recently looked like it could soon become a reality.

In an announcement made this week, Deep Space Industries (DSI) and the country of Luxembourg have committed to launching the first exploratory mission to investigate whether an asteroid has the potential to become a space-based mine.

In a two-phased approach to full-bore space mining, DSI engineers will launch a mission in late 2017 named Prospector-X. The small Prospector-Xvehicle will nestle itself into low Earth orbit and field test technologies that will be critical to any off-world mining endeavor.

If all goes to plan, DSI then plans to launch a second mission before the end of the decade. As a follow-up, the 50-kg Prospector-1 vehicle will travel beyond Earth’s orbit, equipped with a proprietary water propulsion system that jets super heated water vapor to generate thrust.

While Propspector-1’s destination asteroid has yet to be chosen, once it has, the craft will map the surface and subsurface of the asteroid and use infrared imaging to locate any water that might be present. After its assay, Prospector-1 will land on its rock and analyze the asteroid’s geophysical characteristics. No mention of a return to Earth or some other space-based processing station has been mentioned by DSI.

So, in reality, Prospector-1 is more proof-of-concept than mining operation. And that makes sense, even if it tamps down the hype a bit.

Let’s face it, tyrannical space-mining bosses like Cohagen really are the worst.

Let’s face it, tyrannical space-mining bosses like Cohagen really are the worst.

Today, it’s still really hard to land a satellite on an asteroid, and given the fact that all of this space mining technology is still in its infancy, I think it’s a safe bet that the perils and injustices of Cohagen’s rule won’t be visited on the Martian or asteroid mining communities strewn across the Milky Way for some time.

And that’s a good thing for a number of reasons. Least of which is the fact that I’d be interested to see how this long game begins to play out for Luxembourg. Sure the country’s ponying up $227 million to stake a claim in the space mining game, but just imagine the riches that could rain down from the heavens if there happened to be platinum, helium-3 or other exotic minerals up in them thar hills!

What if space mining turned Luxembourg into one of the most powerful countries on the planet? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

If Luxembourg’s wily gamble does pay off, it will be one of the uncanniest stories I’ve ever witnessed.

But then again, I did see Total Recall.