A new space company, Deep Space Industries, said it will launch a series of spacecraft starting in 2015 to explore the possibility of harvesting natural resources from near-earth asteroids.
This week the US company became the second firm in less than a year to express strong interest in mining precious metals in space.
Planetory Resources, with the backing of Nasa scientists Chris Lewicki and Tom Jones, and space entrepreneurs Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, was established in April 2012.
In a presentation at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying in California, Deep Space Industries (DSI) said it will launch a series of low-cost satellites in 2015 on journeys of two to six months, with larger spacecraft embarking on longer trips a year later.
The smaller 'FireFly' probes will employ low-cost cubesat components and will piggy back on larger communications satellites for deployment.
Expeditions carried out by the larger 'DragonFly' probes will take two to four years, depending on the target, and will bring materials back to earth.
DSI chairman Rick Tumlinson said, "Using low-cost technologies, and combining the legacy of our space programme with the innovation of today's young high-tech geniuses, we will do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago."
The firm will work with NASA and other companies to build a small fleet of the miniature probes and identify inter-spacial targets with potential for natural resources discovery.
"We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper, and faster than ever before. Imagine a production line of FireFlies, cocked and loaded and ready to fly out to examine any object that gets near the Earth," added Tumlinson.
DSI has a developed the MicroGravity Foundry 3D printer that will eventually process asteroid material into alloys and other substances.
Some asteroids are known to contain platinum and gold, while others are largely made from nickel-iron alloys.
Image: Deep Space Industries' 'FireFly' will explore for natural resources on asteroids. Photo: Deep Space Industries.