AI In Space
NASA has agreed to pay as much as $100,000 to Made in Space to conduct a feasibility study on the concept of turning asteroids into spacecraft.
Made in Space is the company that has put two 3D printers on the International Space Station to serve the needs of NASA, and the company’s next goal is to pioneer the manufacturing of materials in space, using resources in space.
Several companies, including Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, have talked about developing probes to travel to asteroids, surveying the asteroids for resources including water ice and precious metals, and bringing those materials back to the Earth-Moon system, but Made in Space wants to take those ideas one step further by turning the asteroid itself into a spacecraft to be piloted wherever needed, from the Moon to a colony on Mars.
“This definitely is in the category of sci-fi inspired stuff,” said Spencer Pitman, head of product strategy. “But it’s guided by a long-term vision of the future, of living and working in space.”
Pitman explained, a single small seed craft would launch from Earth or some system in orbit, fly to an asteroid, and land there. Using the seed craft — part resource scourer, part additive manufacturing system — would build spaceflight systems. These systems might include a simple mass driver that would use a catapult to launch bits of asteroids opposite the desired direction. It could also “print” springs and flywheels to store energy and build other systems to guide and navigate the asteroid.
“That’s really where this could really become an enabling technology,” Pitman concluded. “Imagine an automated spacecraft converting an asteroid into a spacecraft, and then processing the asteroid into its constituent valuable parts on the way to Mars or other destination. Suddenly you’re contributing to the sustainability on Mars.”