The thought of venturing into space, grabbing hold of a giant asteroid, and mining the asteroid for precious metals and other items sounds like pure science fiction. However, there are two companies in the United States that intend to do this very thing. The two companies are Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries (DSI).
DSI has announced that it intends to send out unmanned prospecting spacecraft called FireFlies starting as soon as 2015. These spacecraft weigh 55-pounds and would piggyback on the launch of larger communication satellites to help save money. If the FireFly prospecting spacecraft find a potential asteroid victim, larger spacecraft would be dispatched to gather samples.
These larger spacecraft called DragonFlies and would be launched starting around 2016. These larger spacecraft would collect samples from the potentially mineable asteroids and would be able to return between 60 and 150 pounds of material to Earth. Missions will take 2 to 4 years according to the company.
DSI hopes to be able to use the materials it harvests from asteroids to build communications platforms in orbit to replace satellites and possibly solar power stations able to beam energy back to Earth. Company executives also say that they'll be able to extract platinum group metals from the asteroids as well. One goal for DSI that still sounds like science fiction is to create a MicroGravity Foundry to transform the raw materials harvested from asteroids into complicated metal parts using a laser-based 3-D printer.