Asteroids: Awesome game, awesome 3D-printing ingredient

8 Jan 2016

3D printing is full of ‘world firsts’, so it was only a matter of time before asteroids were used as printing material, right?

Planetary Resources, one of the leading companies looking to commercialise space, has just 3D printed a trophy-type object out of asteroids.

Showing off its wares at CES in Las Vegas, the company explained how its “geometric object” was constructed from an actual asteroid that was “pulverised, powdered and processed” on a special 3D printer.

3D printing asteroid Planetary Resources

Planetary Resources has 3D printed this object (and below) made out of an asteroid

A space feel

It’s the first-ever object made from materials sourced in outer space, we presume, with Planetary Resources claiming the finished piece “is reminiscent of a design that could originate from a 3D printer in the zero-gravity environment of space”.

The asteroid that was stripped down and processed was sourced from the Campo Del Cielo impact near Argentina, and is composed of iron, nickel and cobalt.

3D printing asteroid Planterary Resources

And there seems no reason to believe that these resources will run out. Regardless of the remains of asteroids already on Earth, NASA is currently working on its Earth defence programme, which tracks near-Earth objects (NEOs).

“Asteroid detection, tracking and defence of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate in Washington.

No known threats

“While there are no known impact threats at this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent ‘Halloween Asteroid’ close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky.”

Of course, NASA, in this instance, is pointing to defence. But for Planetary Resources, and indeed a few other space businesses, these asteroids are primed for exploration and, ultimately, mining.

US president Barack Obama recently ruled that finders keepers is the rule in space. The Space Resource Exploration and Utilisation Act of 2015 puts down on paper rules that allow US companies or citizens to mine resources “found on or within a single asteroid”.

Main asteroid image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic