Given how expensive it is to lift anything into space from the surface of the Earth, the future of efficient and affordable space travel may be dependent on using the resources that are already up there. Space may seem big and empty, and it mostly is, but there's enough raw material floating around out there in the form of asteroids and comets to keep us going for eons. The trick is going to be rounding these asteroids up and bringing them somewhere they can be of use without spending so much fuel on the process that the effort is rendered pointless.
Made In Space is a company that develops technology for, you guessed it, making stuff in space. For example, they've got 3-D printers aboard the International Space Station that make tools, and they've experimented with turning simulated regolith (Moon dust) into a material that can be 3-D printed into useful things. With funding from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concept Program, Made in Space has been exploring a fairly wild idea: To gather the raw material for all of our making-in-space needs, Made in Space wants to send small “seed craft” to near-Earth asteroids with the aim of turning them into giant spacecraft that will fly themselves back to Earth to be mined.
The basic idea of grabbing asteroids and bringing them back to the Earth-Moon system to harvest their resources isn't a new one. In fact, it's such a not-new idea that NASA plans to send a robotic spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid and bring a chunk of it back to lunar orbit for study sometime within the next decade. The problem: NASA can bring back only a very, very small portion of the space rock, because asteroids are very, very big, and moving big things in space takes a lot of fuel. (In the case of a big asteroid, an almost impossibly large amount of fuel, especially if you want things done in a timely manner.)
What Made in Space wants to do with Project RAMA*, short for Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata, is to make asteroids into self-assembled, self-contained, self-propelled, fully autonomous spacecraft. If they can pull this off, it would mean that the small seed craft sent to an asteroid would be equipped to use materials on the asteroid itself to manufacture computers, guidance systems, engines, and enough ener