Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources and 3D Systems have displayed an additively manufactured object made out of metal sourced from a meteorite.
Endgadget reports that the metal used as a feedstock was taken from an asteroid that landed in Argentina in prehistoric times. It was extracted using a plasma that condenses metallic powder from the meteorite, which is then extracted from a vacuum system.
This is a major step forward for making space mining operations a real possibility.
Planetary Resources aims to “develop cost-effective space exploration technologies, mine near-earth asteroids and expand humanity's resource base.”
CEO Nick Lewicki believes that if space exploration is going to progress in a meaningful way, then manufacturing and building in space need to be mastered.
"There are billions and billions of tons of this material in space," Lewicki said, according to Endgadget.
"Everyone has probably seen an iron meteorite in a museum, now we have the tech to take that material and print it in a metal printer using high energy laser. Imagine if we could do that in space."
Previously speaking to Australian Mining, Lewicki explainedoOne of the major advantages of mining in space is that once you are in space it is cheaper to produce materials as opposed to facing the higher costs associated with lifting materials out of earth orbit.
“The common argument is that it costs about US$20,000 per kilogram to launch to deep space from Earth, so if you can produce that kilogram in space for less than $20,000, you’re ahead,” director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research, professor Andrew Dempster said.
“In fact, SpaceX publishes its launch costs on its website; currently, for its Falcon 9, that figure is about US$12,600.”
This new technological breakthrough now removes much of this cost.
The object displayed was made using a 3D Systems ProX DMP 320 printer, and is modeled on the Arkyd spacecraft. It was displayed at this week's CES show in Las Vegas.