We’ve reported on some pretty interesting technologies in Advancing Mining and our sister blog, Analyzing Metals, among them 3D printing, which is now possible with metal, and mining asteroids for valuable metals. Now these two stories collide with the news that Planetary Resources, in collaboration with 3D Systems, has created a 3D-printed objects using asteroid metals.
According to the Planetary Resources web site, “This spacecraft prototype was 3D printed from an actual asteroid that was pulverized, powdered and processed on the new 3D Systems ProX DMP 320 metals 3D printer. It is the first part ever 3D printed with material from outer space and is reminiscent of a design that could originate from a 3D printer in the zero-gravity environment of space. The asteroid (or meteorite) used for the print materials was sourced from the Campo Del Cielo impact near Argentina, and is composed of iron, nickel and cobalt – similar materials to refinery grade steel.”
Until fairly recently, 3D printing with any metal, never mind metal sourced from asteroids, seemed unlikely. Metal printing materials were cost prohibitive until the development of metal powders tailored to specific 3D printing technologies. (Read Welcome the Next Phase in the 3D Printing Craze: Metal.)
Mining asteroids, which are thought to contain huge supplies of gold, platinum, iron ore, and other minerals, also seems unlikely considering the impracticalities and expense of transporting mining equipment and mined resources to and from deep space. But, as we reported last year in Space: The Final Frontier… For Mining? NASA scientists suggest that advances in robotics and 3-D printing may lead to the development of self-sustaining machinery and tools that could make asteroid mining a reality. (Read the full article, Asteroids Provide Sustainable Resource.) Companies interested in asteroid mining also point out that the idea is not to bring resources back to earth, but to use the water found in asteroids to make rocket fuel in space to enable further exploration.
Before we’ve even completely figured out how to get there, the question of staking claim to asteroid “property” has already arisen. In fact, it’s been legislated. In May 2015, the U.S. Congress passed the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015, a commercial space bill that defines space and asteroid resources as well as property rights, stating, “Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained such resources, which shall be entitled to all property rights thereto, consistent with applicable provisions of Federal law and existing international obligations.” In November 2015, President Obama signed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act into law, which allows companies to own resources mined from asteroids.
Asteroids aren’t the only heavenly resources out there. To learn why some companies are interested in mining the moon, read Do We Need More Green Cheese? One Step Closer to Mining the Moon’s Resources. It’s all out of this world.