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Space & Astronomy

Can asteroids be turned in to spaceships ?

June 11, 2016 | Comment icon 16 comments

A concept image of a 3D-printed propulsion system on an asteroid. Image Credit: Made In Space
NASA is funding a new concept that could equip small asteroids with 3D-printed propulsion systems.
The asteroids which pass us by on a regular basis might not seem particularly valuable, but inside many of these spacefaring rocks there lies a wealth of gold, platinum and other minerals that could actually make space mining a commercially viable venture.

At the moment getting close enough to an asteroid to be able to mine anything from it remains a bit of a challenge, but now 'Made In Space', a 3D printing company based in California, is working with NASA to develop a unique solution which involves bringing these objects closer to home.

Known as RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata), the method involves sending a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid where it would mine a small amount of its resources and use them to 3D-print simple propulsion and navigation systems.
The probe would then use these systems to physically move the asteroid to a more accessible location before detaching and heading off to the next one to repeat the process.

The idea was funded as part of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program which awards money to projects with the potential to transform the future of spaceflight.

While it might sound far-fetched, it is certainly not outside the realms of possibility that once asteroid mining eventually does take off, automated systems like this one could play a crucial role in providing an ongoing supply of accessible asteroids to orbiting mining facilities.

Source: Popular Science | Comments (16)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #7 Posted by XenoFish 6 years ago
You misunderstand. Things are done often out of greed. Of course it will cost, but money shouldn't be the single motivating factor.
Comment icon #8 Posted by highdesert50 6 years ago
I would imagine, too, that an asteroid or perhaps even a comet could be used for manned platform for planetary exploration using propulsion to maneuver for gravitational slingshots and the mass as protection from radiation and small impacts. On a larger scale, find an errant sun with a planet in the goldilocks zone moving galactically and you just may find a very advanced civilization exploring the universe.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Zalmoxis 6 years ago
Great idea.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Harte 6 years ago
Then you relegate it to non-profit aerospace. IOW, NASA. What will they do with the materials mined there? How much bureaucracy is acceptable? Harte
Comment icon #11 Posted by XenoFish 6 years ago
Never mind I shouldn't have posted anything.
Comment icon #12 Posted by GreenmansGod 6 years ago
If space is to be in the future you are going to have use the materials at hand in space. It sounds feasible to me. Being it is using a automated robot to do the work it sounds cost effectiveonce you get through the start up. We can't sit on this rock forever.
Comment icon #13 Posted by DieChecker 6 years ago
Heck, I've said this on these forums for years. Once we start mining asteroids, they will be ideal for use in further exploration. You don't need to lift hundreds of tons of steel up from Earth and don't need manufacturing to refine the metal already in space. You just dig it out to suit what accommodations you need. Saves a bunch of money. All you need is the guidance and propulsion to be brought up from Earth. Saves a LOT of money.
Comment icon #14 Posted by danielost 6 years ago
not according to this story. you just need one robot, to start with. everything else would be built in space. as I said in the thread that got closed.
Comment icon #15 Posted by toast 6 years ago
But there is one important fact missing in yr math. Its about the amount of propellant needed, and to be supplied from the Earth surfcace into space, to capture/decelerate the asteroid and to manipulate the asteroids trajectory to take it into a stable LEO and to keep it there.
Comment icon #16 Posted by DieChecker 6 years ago
That is what water will be for. The moons of Jupiter, and many of the asteroids are heavily loaded with water. If you have an ion engine, and solar panels, then you have propellant.

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