Asteroid Mining Companies & Technology

There are quite a few companies across the world actively engaged in developing asteroid mining technology in a wide variety of ways. Not all are known, and most tend to specialize in a certain aspect of technology that will fit into the whole picture. In this information section we seek to maintain an ongoing record of the various commercial technologies and methods that are being developed to achieve asteroid mining. We'll also cover the more theoretical aspects of this field and honestly confront our current technological and physical limitations. Check back periodically to learn about breaking developments in the technological development of asteroid mining. As time goes on we will constantly expand this section to serve as a reference. The name of each organization is a link to its main web site if available, where you can get more in-depth information on the products or services they provide.
  
We are at the beginning of the steep part of the curve of asteroid mining technological development. What that means is current research is centered around prospecting, detection, transportation and navigational development. Initially national efforts will predominate, but commercial companies will increasingly follow. In the next decade you'll start to see people experimenting with the concept of robotic zero g mineral extraction. Eventually things will start to be pulled together and the technological winners of each stage will form a whole picture, and in this 20-30 year period, nations will arrange for shared telecommunications and navigation networks between earth and the main belt. 
 
 
 
 
"We design, build and operate small satellite systems supporting space-based
Mission as a Service (MaaS) business applications including earth observation, 
communications and various space manufacturing applications." Astro Digital specializes in constellation based satellite analysis and communications. It is established in this space, particularly with its Corvus platform, and thus a leader in the field and capable of helping clients in their needs from planning, launch to operation. With this kind of technical expertise, Astro Digital could easily adapt their systems to space mining needs.
  
 Image Credit: Astro Digital 
 
 
 
 
"We are a young aerospace start-up company on a mission to exploit the potential of an off-Earth commercial market. We are currently developing a satellite to prospect the near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) for mining candidates. AMC will commercialise this data set in order to fund further development of the Asteroid Mining industry, using the revenues from the Space Resource Database to refocus our R&D on the extraction, processing and utilisation of the available extra-terrestrial materials." The succinctly named Asteroid Mining Corporation based in the UK is a new entrant in the race to asteroid mining, and they have a firm and reasonable path to get started. AMC realizes that the first step is proper prospecting and analysis of elemental composition of these asteroids to know which are the best targets to go for the earliest. To get there, they have a series of three missions planned: Asteroid Prospecting Satellite One (APS-1) 2020, Asteroid Exploration Probe One (AEP-1) 2023, and Asteroid Mining Probe One (AMP-1) 2028. Interestingly, the AMC is a champion of a version of the United States SPACE Act for the United Kingdom! 
 
 Image Credit: Asteroid Mining Corporation
 
 

Aten Engineering

 
 
Aten Engineering sees a considerable amount of unmet need in the exciting area of asteroid prospecting! “Aten Engineering Inc. provides technical solutions in the areas of detection, discovery, follow-up and characterization of Near Earth Asteroids, with the goal of enabling in-space resource extraction and utilization to pave the way for Human exploration of the Solar System.” Short of this ambitious mission statement, there does not yet appear to be publicly announced plans or technology, but they appear to have just started.
 
Image Credit: Aten Engineering 
 

Bradford Space

 
"Bradford Space is a world-beating space systems group building non-toxic propulsion, space station facilities, deep space missions, and attitude control systems."  Bradford Space has been involved with a wide variety of space craft components, ranging from sensors to thrusters to even fully customizable space station work spaces since 1984. In particular Bradford seems to pride itself on its non-toxic thruster designs and has a focus on the development of space station work space units. In 2019 it was announced that Bradford had acquired Deep Space Industries and its novel microsat technology line, further expanding what it has to offer.
 
 
  
 Image Credit: Bradford Space
 
 
 
 
 
Though not strictly a commercial effort, frequently university financed and inspired progress can play a big role in technological and then commercial development. The Colorado School of Mines is proud to host the world's first space resources coursework. The program boasts a long history in participation in space resource research, established facilities in which such work is done, as well as the design of In-Situ Resource Utilization systems. The university offers Post-Baccalaureate Certificate, Master of Science or Ph.D. degrees, including fully online coursework. No doubt the first space miners will come from the Colorado School of Mines! 
 
 Image Credit: Colorado School of Mines
 
 

Deep Space Industries

This company started out with the view of opening access to space resources by making spacecraft technology cheap and affordable. In it's quest to achieve this DSI developed two systems: the Xplorer and Comet. DSI describes the Xplorer as "Xplorer is designed to do something no spacecraft has done to date: use its own propulsion system to go from low Earth orbit to an Earth departure trajectory. We designed this spacecraft to take advantage of the relatively low cost and high availability of commercial rideshare launches to low Earth orbit. With this capability, we enable many exploration and high delta-V applications from geosynchronous orbit, to near-Earth asteroids, to destinations as far away as Mars." Also the Comet as "A simple, launch-safe, and cost-effective electrothermal propulsion system that uses water as a propellant and offers the ideal balance of cost and performance."  Recently DSI has been acquired by Bradford Space. 
 
 
 Image Credit: Deep Space Industries / Bradford Space 
 
 
 
 
 "Deep Space Systems Incorporated is a space systems engineering company located in Littleton, Colorado that supports the design, development, integration, testing, and operations of science, technology, and exploration spacecraft." Deep Space Systems is an established player in the space technology sector, having supported NASA systems: "Deep Space Systems is AS9100D certified. We are under contract to deliver Criticality 1S hardware and Criticality 3 flight hardware in support of NASA missions and Class D hardware in support of classified missions." The company boasts an extensive list of services to the space sector including: mission and system analysis, assembly and testing, engineering services, engineering visualization, guidance/navigation/control support, life support/crew systems, mechanical engineering, mission formulation, payload and vehicle integration, program management, propulsion, safety and quality assurance, subsystem integration, systems engineering, telecommunications and mission operations. They have begun their own production line and offer high performance camera systems as well as NASA's land rover CLPS.
 
 Image Credit: Deep Space Systems
 

Deltion Innovations 

 
 
"We develop mining technologies and robotics for the resource sector." Sure, you can fly to an asteroid, scan it, send information about it back to earth, but at some point if you intend to profit you’ll be faced with one of the oldest and grandest professions in the world: mining! Deltion Innovations focuses on the dirty job of digging up that mineral wealth and extracting it, and what better thing for that hard job than robots? Deltion boasts a variety of services in this area including mechanical design, fabrication, electrical design, control systems and automation, extreme environment testing and training. They are also multiple award winners for the NASA Group Achievement Award. Research like this will be vital to asteroid mining.
 
 
Image Credit: Deltion 
  
 

Kleos Space

 
 “Launching Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites in 2019 that will locate radio transmissions from devices such as VHF walkie talkies.” Communications and telemetry will be vital in the maintenance and efficiency of an asteroid mining operation. Kleos Space sees opportunity in this sector and specializes in technological development of space and satellite based communications. Though not specifically stated to be designed for asteroid mining, developments in this area will be critical for it. In mid 2019 a  low earth orbit nano-sat test mission will be launched.  This European (UK/Luxembourg) based space company hopes to achieve near real time speeds of communication, and to develop a satellite network system which can be contracted out by companies and nations for high accuracy geolocation needs and other intelligence. An interesting template for commercial based space cooperation and the coordination of networks of satellites. Finally Kleos has an interest in space manufacturing with materials such as carbon fiber, resin and 3d printing. Though they do not seem to have much publicly stated in terms of progress here, this will be a major topic in asteroid mining development in the near future.
 
 Image Credit: Kleos 
 
 
 
"Seattle-based LeoStella is a state-of-the-art small satellite manufacturing company, redefining how high quality Earth observation constellations are built at scale." LeoStella is a part of a growing number of companies interested in scaling down the costs and size of your average satellite and using them in constellation form. Technological development such as this can help economize the hardware of space mining and open new approaches.
 
Image Credit: LeoStella 
 
 
  
 
 
 “Our mission is to redefine possible by returning to the Moon and unlocking its mysteries and resources for the benefit of humanity.” Moon Express is another company which sees a need and tremendous potential in unlocking the resources of the moon with the democratization of space mining. It plans on doing thus via their own line of MX class satellites that will be involved with prospecting and harvesting in a trio of already planned missions. The first utilizing their MX-1E system is its Lunar Scout mission, which will deliver an unspecified payload and ostensibly be a survey mission. The second Lunar Outpost expedition will be focused on surveying the southern lunar pole with a view of creating a base of operations here due to the maximal sunlight exposure. The third planned Harvest Moon expedition is the principal target of these missions: to retrieve lunar material for transport back to earth. Moon express is also proud to proclaim the world’s first officially recognized commercial operation on the moon as ordained by the SPACE Act and the United States government. Any progress made by the ambitious Moon Express project will be a boon to space mining in general.
 Image Credit: Moon Express
 
 
 
 
"The team at NEORA has developed a process that allows for high-level analysis of NEOs, even within days of first being discovered. Our innovative techniques will enable us to use this data to provide evidence and records of targets with a high probability for successful missions."  The Near Earth Object Resource Atlas seeks to be the world leader in the scanning and identification of asteroids, which is unquestionably a useful niche to fill in space mining. Technological development in this area will be the basis for future asteroid identification processes, and by focusing on near earth objects, NEORA puts itself in a pole position for the first asteroids to be collected. Those who start earliest reap the greatest rewards! A lot of interesting asteroid mining activity coming out of Australia.
 
 Image Credit: NEORA
 
 
 
 
 "We are developing a new generation of universal industrial robots to do the heavy lifting on Earth, Moon, asteroids and Mars." OffWorld sees the coming Alderamin boom that asteroid mining is, and has wisely inserted itself in the much needed area of robotic mining processing. The people that are first to develop these approaches will know unlimited success as every operation in the world comes to them for this kind of rarefied know-how. According to OffWorld, their master plan is stated as: "We envision millions of smart robots working under human supervision on and offworld, turning the inner solar system into a better, gentler, greener place for life and civilization." Ambitious visions of a group just getting started, we hope to see more from OffWorld soon!
 
 Image Credit: OffWorld
 
 
 
 
An early hopeful player in the field, Planetary Resources eventually ran out of resources in 2018. The company was especially focused on targeting near earth asteroids and had a series of planned experimental satellite missions: Arkyd-3R, Arkyd-6 and Arkyd-301. Arkyd-3R was ejected out of the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer on the International Space Station and was meant to 'validate spacecraft technology.' The Arkyd-6 satellite mission was launched via rocket in January 2018 with "...mid-wave infrared sensor, second-generation avionics, power systems, communications, and attitude determination and control systems." Finally, the Arkyd-301 mission was a planned scan of near earth asteroids for water content using their latest construct. Anticipating the need for economy and scale, Planetary Resources dabbled with 3d printing and an asteroid survey satellite constellation called Ceres. 
 
  Image Credit: Planetary Resources
 
 
 
 
The Planetoid Mines Company based in New Mexico has not made many public announcements since its foundation, however its web page boasts the following products and services: prospector rover and mining infrastructure, excavation and extraction equipment, in-situ resource utilization instruments, solar redux-molten regolith electrolysis, entry and decent landing platform, free space optical communications network, magnetoplasmadynamic propulsion. The company appears to be planning missions which skip further into the solar system, potentially building infrastructure along the way to bolster further missions: moon, mars, Europa, Davida.
 
 Image Credit: Planetoid Mines Company
   
 
 
 
"Our ultimate goal is to build a family of robotic mining and manufacturing satellites that can make, form, weld, and assemble metal parts into larger structures. We are working to reduce the cost of manufacturing in space to the point where it will be less expensive to manufacture in space than to manufacture on Earth. This will enable the construction of large objects in space that are currently too costly to implement. We are using the latest advances in robotics, electric propulsion, and 3D printing technologies to provide an Internet based service which would allow everyone the ability to manufacture objects in space." SpaceFab.US knows exactly what will be required to springboard space development into the next stages that really push the boundaries. Fabrication technology and satellites will be the core of asteroid mining operations, so anything these technologists discover and design will be directly applicable to the field. Currently SpaceFab.US operates a space telescope called Waypoint I, capable of a variety of spectral analysis, that can be publicly accessed by app! 
  Image Credit: SpaceFab.US
 
 
  
"At Space Resources Australia our mission is to provide key space-derived resources to the emerging Space Industry. We aim to:
  • Promote innovation and technologies required for space activities, particularly areas considered a competitive advantage for Australia
  • Engage in international collaborations, strategic partnerships and education systems in order to share resources, access asteroid data, and better understand past expeditions
  • Identify domestic and international partnerships to align ourselves with and support the Australian Space Industry
  • Promote all space related activities via research, experiments and education
  • Provide first mover advantage for the Australian Space Industry through exploration and discovery” 
Not to be left out of the space mining boom, Australia is making sure it has a firm footing in the industry, and organizations like SRA are just the way to foster that growth industry. 
 
  Image Credit: Space Resources Australia
 
 
 
A new start up with a specific goal in mind, TransAstra knows well the potential of the coming asteroid mining mineral rush: "TransAstra is a new kind of aerospace company dedicated to building the “transcontinental railroad of space”. Our vision is for humanity to become a spacefaring species homesteading the solar system. Our mission is to turn thousands of asteroids in refueling stations for NASA and commercial spacecraft opening the high frontier to NASA human exploration and commercial industries beyond imaging satellites and telecommunications. TransAstra will lead the work in supplying services for the 21st century industries of asteroid mining, space solar power, space tourism and manufacturing in space." Other than this mission statement, this is all the information we have on TransAstra, though we hope to hear news from them soon!
 
 
   Image Credit: TransAstra
 
 
 
UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory
SpaceX
Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems
Boeing Defense, Space & Security

 Lockheed Martin Space Systems

 

 

Myth # 1: The Main Asteroid Belt is too far away to conduct mining operations.

 
Right now a little roving robot named Opportunity has been rolling on the surface of Mars since 2004 and only in 2018 did a hardware error occur! This feat of technological excellence is proof that you can operate robotic assets over long range, even on the surface of a planet, for extended periods of time. All this was accomplished using already out of date technology and no infrastructure. Furthermore it is no doubt a more problematic signal to maintain on the surface of a planet as opposed to the relative vacuum of space. 
Still, maintaining a speedy and consistent signal will lead to the economies necessary to make asteroid mining a reality. To overcome the signal delay between Earth and the Main Belt, very simply a signal amplifying array between them can be established and designed in a cheap form. With regularly spaced amplifiers, a near instant signaling can be achieved with currently available technology.

 
Myth #2: There is just too much mass to move from the Main Asteroid Belt for asteroid mining to be economical.

 
Making asteroid mining a reality will be a balancing act of the minimization of mass to be transported, and maximization of the conservation of energy use. To get there, a wide array of approaches are envisioned and will be used in parallel.
Firstly, a great amount of mass will be left behind and not brought back to Earth at all, because refinement and extraction will carried out at the Main Belt as much as possible by robotic means. It remains to be seen which minerals and in what form they’re to be extracted into, and this will be one of the most challenging technological components of space mining. Thankfully, testing these technologies can happen in Earth orbit before starting. Performing all mineral processing at the Main Belt has the added benefit of keeping the environmentally damaging waste product far from earth.
With regard to energy conservation, it should be noted that the Main Asteroid Belt is absolutely loaded with organic compounds, all of which are precursors of high energy compounds used in various rocket fuels. Even basic hydrogen gas can be synthesized from water. Just as extraction is carried out at the Main Belt, so too will fuel synthesis for the return journey. Also do not forget the contributions of solar power, nuclear power and later possibly fusion power to add their energy to the overall equation.

 
Myth #3: it is impossible to get significant weight back down to Earth from orbit.

 
Space processing and extraction are an area which will require new technologies to realize, and so too the approach to getting mass from orbit back to earth will require doing things in a new way. For the longest time humanity has thought from the perspective of lifting off from earth with great weight, but put less effort into getting back as only the weight of a human crew mattered. 

To beat this challenge, it seems that an old idea who’s time has finally come is the best approach: space elevators. Not a new idea, the principle depends on classic Newtonian physics. A long tethered line is attached to a weight in space, with the centripetal force pulling outward from earth, and the attached tether and gravitational pull of the Earth on the mass of the line pulling back towards Earth. The end result is a taut line which can lift and lower mass, which would greatly reduce costs of transportation. What makes this idea feasible today are advances in material science which now provide the strength of material required to maintain a space elevator, such as carbon and diamond fiber.

A space elevator may be impossible with current technology, but even other methods are possible, such as employing classic reentry capsule design, stripped down of crew and life support function with parachutes, could be economical enough to land high value minerals. One could target an exact spot for impact in a specially constructed location (perhaps even a lake), allow for a crash landing of the capsule loaded with precious mineral, then extract and refine said mineral from the impact site!