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Deep Space Industries partners with Luxembourg for asteroid mining probe

Space is full of wonder and adventure, but there are also more tangible riches in the form of gold and platinum locked up inside asteroids. Several groups are working on plans to capture and mine asteroids for their mineral wealth, and maybe even turn them into refueling depots for deep space missions. One such company called Deep Space Industries (DSI) has partnered with the government of Luxembourg to design and deploy an asteroid hunting spacecraft called Prospector-X.

The probe is expected to launch soon, but there isn’t a specific date. In this case, that’s not necessarily a problem. DSI doesn’t need to work on securing a dedicated launch vehicle because Prospector-X is small and built on the CubeSat standard. Specifically, it will be a 3U spacecraft, meaning it takes up three CubeSat units when packed for launch. Each one is roughly 10cm on a side, so the Prospector-X will be 30cm long — about the size of a loaf of bread.

Prospector-X won’t actually be visiting any asteroids — it’s destined to spend its time in low-Earth orbit to test the systems DSI is designing. Well, let’s hope it doesn’t get up close and personal with any asteroids in low-Earth orbit. Prospector-X will zip around in space, testing navigation, propulsion, and avionics technologies that DSI plans to use when it locates and mines asteroids. The probe includes a dual-camera optical navigation system and an electrothermal thruster that uses water as a propellant.

ProspectorX

Deep Space Industries is not the only company taking steps toward mining asteroids. Planetary Resources is a more well-known player in this space, and it managed to launch a similar test satellite last year called the Arkyd 3R from the International Space Station. Neither company has the technology to actually mine an asteroid yet, but the hurdles are not just technological, they’re legal too.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 banned countries from putting weapons of mass destruction into space, but also prohibits “claims of sovereignty.” Does staking a claim to an asteroid for mining purposes count as a “claim of sovereignty?” That’s not entirely clear, but the treaty also includes a section that guarantees space will “be free for exploration and use by all States.” If mining counts as exploration, you’re all good. The US government has already taken action by passing the Space Act of 2015. That affirmed that companies could own the resources they extract from asteroids. Now DSI just has to mine some.

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