June 10, 2016
Though it seems as though a long time has passed since mankind last really stepped into space with the lunar landings, historically it’s been an eye blink. Compared to all the time humans spent gazing up at the moon before reaching it, a few decades is nothing. The next steps of manned space exploration will require massive amounts of material expenditures, but, fortunately for us, the universe itself contains all the materials we’ll need.
NASA’s long-range plans for space exploration include the idea of extraterrestrial mining, generally targeting the leftovers of creation more commonly known as asteroids. The space agency has explored a number of different possibilities for asteroid mining, and has also reached out to the private sector for additional ideas. Made in Space has risen to the challenge with the idea of leveraging additive manufacturing (AM) to convert asteroids into autonomous spacecraft that transport themselves to mining facilities.
Made in Space has already contributed to our future in space with its work on 3D printing capable of operating in a zero-g environment. Its new idea is much more ambitious, but continues to build on the company’s previous work. From the website:
Project RAMA — Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata, is designed to leverage future advances of additive manufacturing (AM) and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) to realize enormous efficiencies in asteroid redirect missions. In other words, we’re studying what it would take to turn asteroids into self-powered spacecraft.
The name Rama is probably recognizable to anyone familiar with the works of Arthur C. Clarke, but there won’t be any mystery about where the asteroids moving toward the Earth might have come from.
The basic plan is to send out a seed craft to intercept a near-Earth (near in the astronomical sense) asteroid. The craft will set down and begin to harvest raw materials. Those materials will then be used to fuel AM systems, which will print out the mechanical parts necessary to convert a floating quarry into a mobile resource.
Along with analog-based navigational aids, energy storage and attitude control. Propulsion will be accomplished via mass drive, which will eject non-viable materials from the craft to push it in the opposite direction. The spacecraft, which will be identified as RAMA-1, will move toward the moon where it can be harvested for materials.
According to Made in Space, the plan could go into operation at some point in the 2030s. Below you’ll find a video about asteroid mining.
Source: Made in Space