Among the more unique 3d printing companies is a firm called Deep Space Industries, a privately held company that proposes to mine Earth-approaching asteroids for their resources. Such asteroids contain potentially trillions of dollars worth of minerals, including platinum group metals, as well as iron and nickel. Some asteroids also contain water that can be used to supply future space settlers, or be refined into rocket fuel for space-based depots. While the platinum group metals might be valuable enough to bring back to Earth, much of the material that could be mined from asteroids would be used to build structures in space. In this way, the cost of launching such structures from the Earth’s surface could be avoided.
Deep Space Industries proposes to launch tiny satellites called Firefly to go forth in search of asteroids suitable for mining. A planned larger satellite, called DragonFly, would serve to extract and bring back 150 kilograms from an asteroid back to Earth. At that point, sometime in the early 2020s, the company expects to be able to start mining asteroids in earnest,
The central part of DSI’s business plan concerns a 3D printer called the Microgravity Foundry, according to the Daily Galaxy. This technology would use a laser system to transform raw materials extracted from asteroids and turn them into complex metal parts. Earth-based 3D printers use powdered metals and require a gravity field to create objects. The Microgravity Foundry, the company suggests, will be able to create high density, high strength components on site and in zero gravity. The parts can then be used as spare parts for space stations and satellites.
The Deep Space Industry endeavor is considered highly speculative, depending as it does on the development of a space-based commercial sector to serve as a market. It has a competitor in Planetary Resources. But the rewards could be on the order of trillions of dollars.