Mining on asteroids could enrich humanity with untold riches, but while we are there, why not build a spaceship from the asteroids themselves?
Decades later, asteroids could be flying outposts with mineral resources, extracting rich resources to help open the last frontier for humanity.
This is the vision of the Californian company Made In Space, which was recently funded by NASA to explore how to turn asteroids into a giant autonomous spacecraft.
The project, known as RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata, “Transforming Asteroids into Mechanical Automata”), is part of the Made In Space plans that will allow you to colonize space, helping to make offshore resource extraction efficient and cost-effective.
“Today we have the opportunity to bring resources from Earth,” says co-founder and technical director of Made In Space, Jason Dunn. "But when we come to a turning point, when we need resources in space, the question arises: Where do we get them from and how can we get them? This program will help us."
The idea of Made In Space is to send an advanced robotic station (Seed Craft) to a rendezvous with several near-earth asteroids in space.
This station will collect material from space stones, and then use this raw material to build power plants, navigation, energy storage and other key systems in place using 3D printing and other technologies. (Made In Space has significant 3D printing experience. The company built two 3D printers that were installed on board the International Space Station last year).
Illustration of an asteroid artist who was turned into a giant mechanical spaceship
Thus, turned into an autonomous spacecraft, asteroids can be programmed to fly around the Earth-Moon system or in another place where they will be needed. Such an approach would be much more efficient than launching a new probe to capture each space rock.
Transformed asteroids are not like the traditional idea of a rocket-powered spacecraft with a complex electronic circuit. Most likely, their mechanics would be relatively primitive.
For example, a computer could be replaced by something similar to the Antiquiter mechanism, invented by the ancient Greeks, to chart the movement of celestial bodies. The propulsion system could be similar to a catapult, which launches boulders or other material from an asteroid in a controlled manner, thereby pushing the space stone in the opposite direction.
The RAMA project will not start from scratch. Standalone 3D printers that use mechanically controlled systems already exist.
However, this project will require significant success in a number of areas, including the use of resources on site.
Up to this point
Made In Space plans will not be able to be implemented soon, as the RAMA project is still in a very early stage.
In April, the project received a grant from the 1st phase of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which aims to stimulate the development of potentially revolutionary space exploration technologies. Phase 1 of the program implies an amount of $ 100,000 for nine months of initial feasibility studies. Then a second grant can be awarded, the amount of which is $ 500,000 and two years for the development of the concept.
“Any discussion of the timing of the RAMA project is controversial,” Dunn said. Nevertheless, he estimated that it would take about 20 years to develop technologies and other works. If so, then the reconnaissance station may go into Earth orbit in the late 2030s.
“The RAMA project can be applied here,” he added, saying that machines like Seed Craft could do a lot of work all over the planet.
"You could build infrastructure in remote areas somewhat autonomously, and also transform resources into useful devices and automated machines," said Dunn. "It could solve some pretty big problems on Earth, from housing to things that make people's lives better."