NASA wishes to convert asteroids into steampunk-style spaceships

Made In Space/Artwork by Brad Kohlenberg
An asteroid spacecraft

An artist’s illustration of what the steampunk asteroid spacecraft might look like

California-based 3D printing firm Made in Space was recently granted funding from NASA to investigate the ambitious plan. Asteroids could be converted into spaceships to fly to remote mining outposts as part of a long-term plan to help human colonies in space.

Known as RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata), the project would involve turning asteroids into giant autonomous spacecraft capable of piloting themselves to remote parts of the galaxy to mine for resources.

A ‘seed craft’ would fly out to a succession of near-Earth asteroids, where it would harvest vital material from the rocks.


This would then be used, in combination with other unspecified tech, to 3D print key systems including propulsion and navigation in order to turn the asteroids into spaceships.

In theory, these could then be programmed to fly to remote mining stations in space .

This would be much cheaper than sending a separate probe to each asteroids, claims Made in Space.

The spacecraft wouldn’t look like the slick machines and powerful rockets produced by NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos. Instead, they would take on a more mechanical ‘steampunk’ look.

What’s more, they would make use of primitive mechanics such as a catapult to launch debris from the asteroid-ship in order to propel it along through space, says the 3D printing firm.

Mechanical computers comprised of 3D-printed parts already exist so the idea may not be quite as far-fetched as it sounds.

Technology scientists hope can save us from catastrophe caused by asteroids

Made in Space has some strong experience in space-based 3D-printing, having already supplied the International Space Station with two 3D printers.

These can be used by astronauts to print small items, such as engineering components.

The company behind the project admits that other technological advances will be needed to put its plan into action.

Sustainable space tech like the asteroid-ships may be vital to humans’ colonization of Mars and other space outposts.

The project has been awarded $100,000 (£69,000) from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts programme.