National Space Society Congratulates NASA, ULA, and Lockheed Martin on the Successful Launch of OSIRIS-REx

With the successful launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 411 on September 8 at 7:05 PM EST, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, NASA’s mission to travel to a near Earth asteroid and return a sample got underway. NSS congratulates the team who made this happen. OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer.

“OSIRIS-REx has NSS members really excited,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President. “The craft will provide a complete map of the chemistry and mineralogy of a carbon based asteroid. Such asteroids will be critical for both the economic development and settlement of space. The TAGSAM sample collection device may provide a foundation for the development of future asteroid mining robots. Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, and his team at the University of Arizona have put together a really impressive mission.”

The probe is the third in NASA’s “New Frontiers” program of medium-sized exploration missions, and cost about $800 million in addition to launch and operations costs. The Lockheed Martin built spacecraft will journey to Bennu, a Near-Earth asteroid, arriving in August 2018. After two years of study, an innovative sample collection device, TAGSAM, will use jets of nitrogen gas to assist in collecting a minimum of 60 grams of samples.

OSIRIS-REx will leave Bennu in March 2021, and arrive back at Earth two and a half years later. The sample return canister is targeted toward a parachute landing at the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023. Although the primary mission objective is to return to Earth a pristine sample of a carbon rich asteroid for analysis, other objectives focus on resource identification, planetary security, and regolith exploration. Other “New Frontiers” missions include Juno, which is currently orbiting Jupiter, and New Horizons, which flew past Pluto in July 2015 and is now heading toward another object in the Kuiper Belt, with an expected arrival in January 2019.

Additionally, OSIRIS-REx will measure the effect of sunlight on the orbit of the asteroid, allowing the risk of an asteroid hitting the Earth to be better understood. “NSS advocates increased U.S. spending on protecting Earth from passing asteroids and comets,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “OSIRIS-REx is a major step toward achieving the goals set forward in the NSS position paper on Planetary Defense.

Development of asteroid resources is fundamental to NSS’ vision of our future in space (see our Roadmap to Space Settlement Milestone 18 “Exploration, Utilization, and Settlement of Asteroids”) and yesterday’s events have brought that future materially closer.

Deep Space Industries Announces First Commercial Interplanetary Mining Mission

Deep Space Industries announced today its plans to fly the world’s first commercial interplanetary mining mission. Prospector-1™ will fly to and rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid, and investigate the object to determine its value as a source of space resources. This mission is an important step in the company’s overall plans to harvest and supply in-space resources to support the growing space economy.

“Deep Space Industries has worked diligently to get to this point, and now we can say with confidence that we have the right technology, the right team and the right plan to execute this historic mission,” said Rick Tumlinson, chairman of the board and co-founder of Deep Space Industries. “Building on our Prospector-X mission, Prospector-1 will be the next step on our way to harvesting asteroid resources.”

Prospector 1
Click image for larger version

Recently, Deep Space Industries and its partner, the government of Luxembourg, announced plans to build and fly Prospector-X™, an experimental mission to low-Earth orbit that will test key technologies needed for low-cost exploration spacecraft. This precursor mission is scheduled to launch in 2017. Then, before the end of this decade, Prospector-1 will travel beyond Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mining exploration mission.

“Our Prospector missions will usher in a new era of low cost space exploration” said Grant Bonin, chief engineer at DSI. “We are developing Prospector both for our own asteroid mining ambitions, but also to bring an extremely low-cost, yet high-performance exploration spacecraft to the market. At a tiny fraction of what traditional custom-built space probes cost, the Prospector platform has the versatility and ruggedness of design to become the new standard for low cost space exploration.”

Prospector-1 is a small spacecraft (50 kg when fueled) that strikes the ideal balance between cost and performance. In addition to the radiation-tolerant payloads and avionics, all DSI spacecraft use the Comet™ water propulsion system, which expels superheated water vapor to generate thrust. Water will be the first asteroid mining product, so the ability to use water as propellant will provide future DSI spacecraft with the ability to refuel in space.

“During the next decade, we will begin the harvest of space resources from asteroids,” said Daniel Faber, CEO at Deep Space Industries. “We are changing the paradigm of business operations in space, from one where our customers carry everything with them, to one in which the supplies they need are waiting for them when they get there.”

The destination asteroid will be chosen from a group of top candidates selected by the world renowned team of asteroid experts at Deep Space Industries. When it arrives at the target, the Prospector-1 spacecraft will map the surface and subsurface of the asteroid, taking visual and infrared imagery and mapping overall water content, down to approximately meter-level depth. When this initial science campaign is complete, Prospector-1 will use its water thrusters to attempt touchdown on the asteroid, measuring the target’s geophysical and geotechnical characteristics.

“The ability to locate, travel to, and analyze potentially rich supplies of space resources is critical to our plans,” continued Faber. “This means not just looking at the target, but actually making contact.”

Along with customer missions already in progress, such as the cluster of small satellites being built by DSI for HawkEye 360, the Prospector missions will demonstrate the company’s simple, low-cost, but high-performance approach to space exploration. The Prospector platform is now available to government and commercial explorers interested in developing sophisticated, yet low-cost missions of their own.

“Prospector-1 is not only the first commercial interplanetary mission, it is also an important milestone in our quest to open the frontier,” said Tumlinson. “By learning to ‘live off the land’ in space, Deep Space Industries is ushering in a new era of unlimited economic expansion.”

More detailed information about the Prospector program, including the Prospector-X (eXperimental) and Prospector-1 missions, and the DSI technologies that are making these missions possible, can be found on the company’s website:

We are making progress…

NSS Executive Vice President Dale Skran writes:

In the current April 20-26 print issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, one of the top three business magazines in the country (along with Fortune and Forbes), the lead editorial is about when to get into the asteroid market. You can read it yourself at:

The article is respectful and constructive, offering a serious proposal on how to handle asteroid mining rights. It reminds me quite a bit of the sort of articles you might see in the L5 News during the late 70s and early 80s.

National Space Society Highlights Contribution of Japanese Hayabusa 2 Asteroid Mission to Space Settlement

The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the successful launch of Hayabusa 2 December 2, 2014, at 11:22 PM EST on the Japanese H-IIA booster. Hayabusa 2 is planned to arrive at asteroid 1999 JU3 in July 2018, gather samples for about a year and one half, and return those samples to the Earth in 2020. The first Hayabusa craft gathered samples from the Asteroid Itokawa in September 2006 and returned them to Earth in 2010. Hayabusa 2 sports many improvements over the first probe, and carries a MASCOT Lander and three MINERVA Rovers.

Asteroid Itokawa is an S-type asteroid, meaning that it was of stony composition. A sample return from Asteroid 1999 JU3, a C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid, represents a major advance in our understanding of the availability and distribution of resources in the solar system. C-type asteroids are dark relative to other asteroids, and are believed to contain sources of water. Water can be used both to sustain human life in space, as well as to provide rocket fuel and store energy for later generation of electricity via fuel cells.

The utilization of asteroidal resources is a key step toward space settlement as described in the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement which can be found at: The success of the Hayabusa 2 will represent a significant step toward the realization of the NSS Roadmap, and will help allow asteroid mining companies such as Planetary Resources ( and Deep Space Industries ( to advance their plans more quickly.

Hayabusa’s characterization of a C-type asteroid will also aid in deflecting similar asteroids should one threaten Earth.  The data gathered will help understand the structure of such asteroids which is key to choosing a deflection technology.  This contributes to the goals of the NSS policy on defense from cosmic threats described in the position paper at

NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos summed up the situation: “We congratulate JAXA on the successful launch of Hayabusa 2, and wish them much success on this vital mission. Japan is to be commended for a steady focus on challenging robotic asteroid missions that are helping to bring the human settlement of space a bit closer.” Paul Werbos’ biography can be found at

H.R. 5063: To promote the development of a commercial asteroid resources industry

U.S. Representatives Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand opportunities and protections for private space companies looking to explore space. The American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014 establishes and protects property rights for commercial space exploration and utilization of asteroid resources.

“Asteroids are excellent potential sources of highly valuable resources and minerals,” said Rep. Bill Posey, a Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “Our knowledge of asteroids – their number, location, and composition – has been increasing at a tremendous rate and space technology has advanced to the point where the private sector is now able to begin planning such expeditions. Our legislation will help promote private exploration and protect commercial rights as these endeavors move forward and I thank Representative Kilmer for working with me to help advance this industry.”

“We may be many years away from successfully mining an asteroid, but the research to turn this from science fiction into reality is being done today,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “Businesses in Washington state and elsewhere are investing in this opportunity, but in order to grow and create more jobs they need greater certainty. That’s why I’m excited to introduce this bill with Representative Posey so we can help the United States access new supplies of critical rare metals while serving as a launch pad for a growing industry.”

Currently, rare minerals used to manufacture a wide range of products are found in a small number of countries. This has left the United States dependent on foreign nations for these resources. The limited supply and high demand for these materials, alongside major advances in space technology and a deeper understanding of asteroids, has led a number of private sector investors to begin developing plans to identify and secure high-value minerals found on asteroids and transport them for use here on Earth.

Some rare minerals that could be found within asteroids include: platinum group metals such as platinum, osmium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, and palladium in addition to nickel, iron and cobalt.

Posey and Kilmer’s bill would:
• Clarify that resources mined from an asteroid are the property of the entity that obtained them.
• Ensure U.S. companies can conduct their operation without harmful interference.
• Direct the President to facilitate commercial development of asteroid resources.

Copy of H.R. 5063.

NASA selects Deep Space Industries for two asteroid contracts

NASA has awarded two contracts to Deep Space Industries Inc. to accelerate the agency’s plans to partner with private industry on asteroid prospecting and harvesting.  One will analyze commercial approaches to NASA’s asteroid goals and how an industry-led asteroid economy can make crewed Mars missions safer, sooner, and less expensive.  The second will examine several small asteroid-prospecting payloads that can be launched as hitchhikers on NASA missions.

Participating with Deep Space on both successful proposals will be Near Earth LLC, which has been raising capital for satellite and space companies since 2002 (and over $15 billion since 1993 at prior investment banks).  It also frequently provides financial and strategic advisory services to major aerospace companies, satellite operators, private equity firms, and hedge funds.

Dr. Mason Peck of Cornell University, a former Chief Technologist for NASA, will collaborate with Deep Space on the small ride-along payloads contract with research into tiny “Sprites” that could be released by the dozens or hundreds during asteroid encounters to gather wide-area data.

“Deep Space brings commercial insight to NASA’s asteroid planning, because our business is based on supplying what commercial customers in Earth orbit need to operate, as well as serving NASA’s needs for its Moon and Mars exploration,” said CEO Daniel Faber. “The fuel, water, and metals that we will harvest and process will be sold into both markets, making available industrial quantities of material for expanding space applications and services.”

“The space industry is transforming with new lower-cost launch options and inexpensive small satellites, trends that Deep Space intends to exploit for its prospecting missions,” said Hoyt Davidson, Managing Member at Near Earth LLC.  “These missions should position Deep Space for the next major growth opportunity in Space — supplying space enterprises and governments with resources found and processed in space.”

The first study will analyze the economic fundamentals of a commercially oriented Asteroid Initiative, and document the expanded exploration resources that industry could supply to NASA if this course were followed.  NASA would receive greatly improved sampling/surveying technologies for the crew inspecting the captured asteroid at no cost to the agency.  NASA also would gain use of potentially crucial resources harvested from the asteroid without needing to pay for the research and development costs required to unlock them.

Deep Space has several spacecraft types under development for its asteroid mineral surveys, all based on the same core subsystems. In the second study, the company will assess each of these spacecraft for compatibility with NASA’s launch vehicle for its asteroid mission plus the initial launch of NASA’s Space Launch System.  The missions will be designed to further commercial and academic goals through innovations like Cornell’s Sprites.

“Each Sprite is a functional spacecraft weighing less than a penny,” said Dr. Mason Peck.  “Sprites on Deep Space missions will be revolutionary new tools for gathering data across wide areas of interest, both on and around asteroids.”

“A profitable asteroid industry is upon us,” said David Gump, Vice Chair and Director of Marketing for Deep Space.  “During the current prospecting phase, Deep Space revenue sources include providing data to scientists and NASA, and enabling corporate marketers to activate their customers through direct  participation in the asteroid adventure.”

The two system concept studies start next month and will be completed in six months in support the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).  The full NASA announcement of the contract awards is at

Dr. John Lewis Wins National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering

The National Space Society takes great pleasure in awarding a 2014 Space Pioneer Award in the Science and Engineering category to Dr. John S. Lewis.  This award is in recognition of his major contributions to the study of the formation and chemistry of asteroids and comets, and his effective work in explaining and promoting both the risks and benefits asteroids offer through his publications.  NSS will present the Space Pioneer Award to Dr. Lewis during the dinner on Thursday, May 15, at its annual conference, the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).  The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. and will run from May 14-18, 2014.

About Dr. John S. Lewis:

Dr. John S. LewisDr. Lewis is Professor Emeritus of Planetary Sciences and Co-Director of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona.  After his degree programs at Princeton, Dartmouth, and University of California at San Diego, he taught space science and cosmo-chemistry at MIT, before moving to the University of Arizona.  His work on the chemistry and composition of asteroids and comets has resulted in a series of significant scientific publications.  He has written 19 books, including graduate and undergraduate texts and popular science books.  He has authored over 150 scientific publications.

His clearly written popular books, (such as Rain of Iron and Ice: The Very Real Threat of Comet and Asteroid Bombardment; Mining the Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets; and Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown) have contributed in a major way to public understanding of space dangers and space resources.  He began publishing on this topic when most people could not even conceive of using space resources.

It has always been a risk for professional scientists to write or communicate to the public though the popular media, even though competent communication in this area is always badly needed.  With the advent of both miniature space probes (allowing inexpensive investigation of asteroidal resources), and the imminent availability of reusable rockets (to reduce launch costs and thus allow high mass space operations), the prospect of actual recovery and use of space materials is now much more believable.  His association with Deep Space Industries as Chief Scientist underscores the new reality.  His service as a member of the NSS Board of Governors is also noted with appreciation.

About the Space Pioneer Award:

Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. There are several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. The NSS Awards Committee has been chaired by John Strickland since 2007 and its members seek prestigious award candidates on a continual basis.

About the ISDC: The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is the annual conference of the National Space Society bringing together NSS leaders and members with leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and businessmen from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

Water Detected on Largest Object in the Asteroid Belt, Ceres

Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres.

Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up periodically from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet, a solar system body bigger than an asteroid and smaller than a planet.

Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions.

“This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.

The results come at the right time for NASA’s Dawn mission, which is on its way to Ceres now after spending more than a year orbiting the large asteroid Vesta. Dawn is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in the spring of 2015, where it will take the closest look ever at its surface.

“We’ve got a spacecraft on the way to Ceres, so we don’t have to wait long before getting more context on this intriguing result, right from the source itself,” said Carol Raymond, the deputy principal investigator for Dawn at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Dawn will map the geology and chemistry of the surface in high resolution, revealing the processes that drive the outgassing activity.”

For the last century, Ceres was known as the largest asteroid in our solar system. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union, the governing organization responsible for naming planetary objects, reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet because of its large size. It is roughly 590 miles (950 kilometers) in diameter. When it first was spotted in 1801, astronomers thought it was a planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Later, other cosmic bodies with similar orbits were found, marking the discovery of our solar system’s main belt of asteroids.

Scientists believe Ceres contains rock in its interior with a thick mantle of ice that, if melted, would amount to more fresh water than is present on all of Earth. The materials making up Ceres likely date from the first few million years of our solar system’s existence and accumulated before the planets formed.

Until now, ice had been theorized to exist on Ceres but had not been detected conclusively. It took Herschel’s far-infrared vision to see, finally, a clear spectral signature of the water vapor. But Herschel did not see water vapor every time it looked. While the telescope spied water vapor four different times, on one occasion there was no signature.

Here is what scientists think is happening: when Ceres swings through the part of its orbit that is closer to the sun, a portion of its icy surface becomes warm enough to cause water vapor to escape in plumes at a rate of about 6 kilograms (13 pounds) per second. When Ceres is in the colder part of its orbit, no water escapes.

The strength of the signal also varied over hours, weeks and months, because of the water vapor plumes rotating in and out of Herschel’s views as the object spun on its axis. This enabled the scientists to localize the source of water to two darker spots on the surface of Ceres, previously seen by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes. The dark spots might be more likely to outgas because dark material warms faster than light material. When the Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres, it will be able to investigate these features.

The results are somewhat unexpected because comets, the icier cousins of asteroids, are known typically to sprout jets and plumes, while objects in the asteroid belt are not.

“The lines are becoming more and more blurred between comets and asteroids,” said Seungwon Lee of JPL, who helped with the water vapor models along with Paul von Allmen, also of JPL. “We knew before about main belt asteroids that show comet-like activity, but this is the first detection of water vapor in an asteroid-like object.”

The research is part of the Measurements of 11 Asteroids and Comets Using Herschel (MACH-11) program, which used Herschel to look at small bodies that have been or will be visited by spacecraft, including the targets of NASA’s previous Deep Impact mission and upcoming Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex). Laurence O’ Rourke of the European Space Agency is the principal investigator of the MACH-11 program.

Herschel is a European Space Agency mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. While the observatory stopped making science observations in April 2013, after running out of liquid coolant, as expected, scientists continue to analyze its data. NASA’s Herschel Project Office is based at JPL. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community.

Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information about Herschel is online at: More information about NASA’s role in Herschel is available at: For more information about NASA’s Dawn mission, visit:

Near-Extinction Event in 1883 Indicates Threat from Space May Be Greater Than We Thought

NSS Board of Directors member Al Globus reports:

We have known for some time that Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are a serious threat to civilization. We also know, more-or-less, how to reduce that threat significantly at very reasonable cost. We have thought, however, that comets were much less of a threat which is a good thing, as they are much harder to deal with.

Unfortunately, it appears that a large comet may have missed Earth by only a few hundred kilometers in 1883. If the comet fragments “had collided with Earth we would have had 3275 Tunguska events in two days, probably an extinction event” [MIT Review].

We know that comet Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 struck Jupiter in 1994. Comet C/2013 A1 is currently believed to have a 1-in-8,000 chance of striking Mars in October 2014, passing within 120,000 km. That’s close enough to endanger satellites orbiting the Red Planet.

It appears that either we are in a period of unusually frequent close encounters with comets, or cometary threats to our existence are fairly common. Defense against comets is much more difficult than against NEOs. Comets spend most of their lifetime in the far outer portions of the solar system where they are hard to observe, and when they do come through the inner solar system they are usually moving very fast, giving little time to respond even if we detect the threat before a collision.

NASA spends about $20 million/year of NEO detection, most of which pays for ground telescopes. For one percent of NASA’s budget ($160 million per year) we could have an absolutely outstanding NEO detection and deflection program. The immediate need is for an infra-red space telescope to find most of them, for example, the B612 Sentinel. As NEO defense is essential to our survival, it is a little silly, and potentially criminally negligent, that we spend orders of magnitude more money on very interesting, but much less important, projects.

Cometary defense, however, is not cheap. Detecting a cometary threat in time to do something about it requires extremely capable telescopes. Comets are dirty snowballs which tend to break into pieces making them very difficult to deflect. If further analysis finds comets to be a significantly greater threat than currently believed, be prepared to open the checkbook.