The National Space Society (NSS) applauds the new NASA budget item that would provide close to $100 million for a mission to rendezvous with a small asteroid and move it into orbit around the Moon where it could later be visited by astronauts.
“An asteroid capture mission is a tremendously important mission, and one that could not be more relevant to the challenges our civilization faces today,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. “Robotic asteroid capture is the first step to exploiting the vast material resources of the solar system for a hopeful and prosperous future for mankind.”
Notes NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos, “Even small asteroids contain tremendous wealth—precious metals, rare strategic metals important for sustainable development, raw materials for in-space construction, and volatiles for life support and propulsion in space.”
This mission is an important precursor to enable private industry to access such resources for the benefit of all mankind and return wealth to our world economy. One medium sized asteroid, 3554 Anum, is estimated to contain $20 trillion of platinum group metals.
Robotic asteroid capture is also a key step toward an effective planetary defense. The mission will mature our ability to capture and deflect a hazardous asteroid—protecting civilization from suffering the same fate as the dinosaurs. The search for suitable targets will find huge numbers of smaller, currently unknown asteroids which pose a very real meteor threat to cities as evidenced by the explosion last month over Chelyabinsk, Russia that injured over 1000 people.
The mission also involves development of cost-effective new technologies of crucial value both to public and private activities in space. Robotic asteroid capture will drive improvements to Solar Electric Propulsion, a critical enabler of cost-effective transportation in Earth-Lunar space and the inner solar system akin to the development of large ocean faring vessels—opening up possibilities for even more ambitious missions in the future.
“The National Space Society has been advocating the capture of asteroid resources for decades (see our Roadmap and Statement of Philosophy), and is most gratified to see this important step toward the NSS Vision of people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity,” said Hopkins.
The same day that asteroid 2012 DA14 is approaching close to Earth, a meteorite explosion in Russia has injured over 900 people, mostly from broken glass. The two objects are unrelated and traveled in completely different directions.
The smaller of the two objects (the one that hit Russia) is estimated to be about 10 tons and exploded about 18-32 miles above the Earth’s surface [later estimates pegged it at 10,000 tons]. The larger object is estimated to be about 130,000 tons and will pass within about 17,000 miles of the Earth (closer than our communication satellites).
Videos of the Russian event:
See Russia Today for more information about this event.
Asteroid 2012 DA14, if it were to hit the Earth, would result in the approximate equivalent of the Tunguska event in 1908 (the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs).
In the long run, the best way to avoid asteroid damage to the Earth (even possible extinction events) is to utilize the asteroids as building materials for space settlements, solar power satellites, etc.!
See the NSS website Planetary Defense Library.
In an online article about Deep Space Industries, the newly announced asteroid mining company, Fox News quoted NSS Executive Committee Chair Mark Hopkins as follows:
“They have the potential to make an enormous amount of money,” Mark Hopkins, a founding member of the Space Development Steering Committee and the Chair of the Exec. Committee of the National Space Society, told FoxNews.com.
“It’s a risky venture. But if they don’t make it some other company is likely to do it in the future,” Hopkins said. “[Space mining] has the potential of restoring the American dream in the minds of Americans and the rest of the world.”
Hopkins is a former Rand Corporation economist.
Deep Space Industries believes the human race is ready to begin harvesting the resources of space both for their use in space and to increase the wealth and prosperity of the people of planet Earth.
Note: Starts at 2.5 minutes. Moderator is “Meteorite Man” Geoff Notkin.
Deep Space Industries announced January 22 that it will send a fleet of asteroid-prospecting spacecraft out into the solar system to hunt for resources to accelerate space development to benefit Earth. These “FireFly” spacecraft utilize low-cost cubesat components and get discounted delivery to space by ride-sharing on the launch of larger communications satellites.
“This is the first commercial campaign to explore the small asteroids that pass by Earth,” said Deep Space Chairman Rick Tumlinson (who signed up the world’s first space tourist, led the team that took over the Mir space station, was a Founding Trustee of the X Prize, and Founded Orbital Outfitters, the world’s first commercial space suit company.) “Using low cost technologies, and combining the legacy of our space program with the innovation of today’s young high tech geniuses, we will do things that would have been impossible just a few years ago.”
FireFlies mass about 55 lbs. (25 kg) and will first be launched in 2015 on journeys of two to six months. Deep Space will be building a small fleet of the spacecraft using innovative miniature technologies, and working with NASA and other companies and groups to identify targets of opportunity.
“My smartphone has more computing power than they had on the Apollo Moon missions,” said Tumlinson. “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.”
Starting in 2016, Deep Space will begin launching 70-lb DragonFlies for round-trip visits that bring back samples. The DragonFly expeditions will take two to four years, depending on the target, and will return 60 to 150 lbs. Deep Space believes that combining science, prospecting and sponsorship will be a win/win for everyone, both lowering costs for exploration and enabling the public to join the adventure.
“The public will participate in FireFly and DragonFly missions via live feeds from Mission Control, online courses in asteroid mining sponsored by corporate marketers, and other innovative ways to open the doors wide,” said CEO David Gump. His earlier ventures include producing the first TV commercial shot on the International Space Station for RadioShack, co-founding Transformational Space Corp. (t/Space) and Astrobotic Technology Inc. “The Google Lunar X Prize, Unilever, and Red Bull each are spending tens of millions of dollars on space sponsorships, so the opportunity to sponsor a FireFly expedition into deep space will be enticing.”
Bringing back asteroid materials is only a step on the way to much bigger things for DSI. The company has a patent-pending technology called the MicroGravity Foundry to transform raw asteroid material into complex metal parts. The MicroGravity Foundry is a 3D printer that uses lasers to draw patterns in a nickel-charged gas medium, causing the nickel to be deposited in precise patterns.
“The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density high-strength metal components even in zero gravity,” said Stephen Covey, a co-Founder of DSI and inventor of the process. “Other metal 3D printers sinter powdered metal, which requires a gravity field and leaves a porous structure, or they use low-melting point metals with less strength.”
Senior leaders at NASA have been briefed on DSI’s technologies, which would make eventual crewed Mars expeditions less expensive through the use of asteroid-derived propellant. Missions would require fewer launches if the fuel to reach Mars were added in space from the volatiles in asteroids. Mars missions also would be safer with a MicroGravity Foundry on board to print replacements for broken parts, or to create brand new parts invented after the expedition was on its way to the Red Planet.
“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” said Gump. “More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year. They can be like the Iron Range of Minnesota was for the Detroit car industry last century – a key resource located near where it was needed. In this case, metals and fuel from asteroids can expand the in-space industries of this century. That is our strategy.”
For example, a large market for DSI is producing fuel for communications satellites. Low-cost asteroid propellant delivered in orbit to commsats will extend their working lifetimes, with each extra month worth $5 million to $8 million per satellite. DSI has executed a non-disclosure agreement with an aerospace company to discuss collaboration on this opportunity.
In a decade, Deep Space will be harvesting asteroids for metals and other building materials, to construct large communications platforms to replace communications satellites, and later solar power stations to beam carbon-free energy to consumers on Earth. As DSI refines asteroids for in-space markets, it also will harvest platinum group metals for terrestrial uses, such as pollution control devices.
“Mining asteroids for rare metals alone isn’t economical, but makes senses if you already are processing them for volatiles and bulk metals for in-space uses,” said Mark Sonter, a member of the DSI Board of Directors. Mr. Sonter combines experience in planning, permitting, and management of large and complex terrestrial mining projects with funded research into the development of asteroid resources. “Turning asteroids into propellant and building materials damages no ecospheres since they are lifeless rocks left over from the formation of the solar system. Several hundred thousand that cross near Earth are available.”
Asteroids that fall to Earth are meteorites, and the Deep Space team includes Geoffrey Notkin, star of the international hit television series Meteorite Men about hunting for them. Notkin has unparalleled expertise in the diversity and market value of these elusive rocks, which are transformed by intense heat during their plunge to the surface. By contrast, the initial asteroid samples to be brought back by Deep Space will have their original in-space composition and structure preserved, creating exceedingly rare specimens for sale to the research and collectors markets.
Deep Space is looking for customers and sponsors who want to be a part of creating this new space economy. The company believes that taking the long view, while creating value, opportunities and products in the near term will allow it to become one of the economic engines that opens space to humanity. By getting under way and taking calculated risks, while developing basic industrial technologies, DSI will be well positioned over time to supply the basic needs of life in space. Taking the idea of socially minded companies to a new level, DSI is literally reaching for the stars.
“We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there,” concluded Tumlinson. “This is the Deep Space mission – to find, harvest and process the resources of space to help save our civilization and support the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth – and doing so in a step by step manner that leverages off our space legacy to create an amazing and hopeful future for humanity. We are squarely focused on giving new generations the opportunity to change not only this world, but all the worlds of tomorrow. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?”
In an announcement today at the Farnborough International Air Show, Virgin Galactic revealed it is partnering with a privately funded satellite launcher to build a two stage air launched rocket capable of placing 225 kilograms into orbit for around $10 Million dollars.
Skybox Imaging announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging system, which will use LauncherOne.
GeoOptics Inc. is developing a constellation of remote sensing satellites to be orbited by Virgin Galactic.
Spaceflight Inc. and Planetary Resources also plan to use LauncherOne.
Also, Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems, announced that they would create optimized satellite designs to match LauncherOne’s performance specifications.
Expanding the resource base of humanity to include the solar system
Seattle, Wash. – April 24, 2012 — Planetary Resources, Inc. announced today its plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. Through the development of cost-effective exploration technologies, the company is poised to initiate prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible.
Resource extraction from asteroids will deliver multiple benefits to humanity and grow to be valued at tens of billions of dollars annually. The effort will tap into the high concentration of precious metals found on asteroids and provide a sustainable supply to the ever-growing population on Earth.
A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history. “Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications,” said Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Additionally, water-rich NEAs will serve as “stepping stones” for deep space exploration, providing space-sourced fuel and water to orbiting depots. Accessing water resources in space will revolutionize exploration and make space travel dramatically more economical.
“Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system. In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.
Of the approximately 9,000 known NEAs, there are more than 1,500 that are energetically as easy to reach as the Moon. The capability to characterize NEAs is on the critical path for Planetary Resources. To that end, the company has developed the first line in its family of deep-space prospecting spacecraft, the Arkyd-100 Series. The spacecraft will be used in low-Earth orbit and ultimately help prioritize the first several NEA targets for the company’s follow-on Arkyd-300 Series NEA swarm expeditions. Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, said “Our mission is not only to expand the world’s resource base, but we want to increase people’s access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems.”
“The promise of Planetary Resources is to apply commercial innovation to space exploration. They are developing cost-effective, production-line spacecraft that will visit near-Earth asteroids in rapid succession, increasing our scientific knowledge of these bodies and enabling the economic development of the resources they contain,” said Tom Jones, Ph.D., veteran NASA astronaut, planetary scientist and Planetary Resources, Inc. advisor.
Planetary Resources, Inc. is financed by industry-launching visionaries, including Google CEO Larry Page and Ross Perot, Jr., Chairman of Hillwood and The Perot Group, who are committed to expanding the world’s resource base so that humanity can continue to grow and prosper:
- Eric E. Schmidt, Ph.D., Executive Chairman of Google, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Planetary Resources, Inc. investor: “The pursuit of resources drove the discovery of America and opened the West. The same drivers still hold true for opening the space frontier. Expanding the resource base for humanity is important for our future.”
- K. Ram Shriram, Founder of Sherpalo, Google Board of Directors founding member and Planetary Resources, Inc. investor: “I see the same potential in Planetary Resources as I did in the early days of Google.”
- Charles Simonyi, Ph.D., Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and Planetary Resources, Inc. investor: “The commercialization of space began with communications satellites and is developing for human spaceflight. The next logical step is to begin the innovative development of resources from space. I’m proud to be part of this effort.”
Some of the company’s advisors include film maker and explorer James Cameron; General T. Michael Moseley (Ret.); Sara Seager, Ph.D.; Mark Sykes, Ph.D.; and David Vaskevitch.
Founded in 2009 by Eric Anderson and Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., Planetary Resources, Inc. is establishing a new paradigm for resource utilization that will bring the solar system within humanity’s economic sphere of influence by enabling low-cost robotic exploration and eventual commercial development of asteroids. For more information, please visit www.PlanetaryResources.com.
A new NASA outreach project will enlist the help of amateur astronomers to discover near-Earth objects (NEOs) and study their characteristics. NEOs are asteroids with orbits that occasionally bring them close to the Earth.
The amateur astronomers are about to make observations that will affect current and future space missions to asteroids. Some will use custom-made, often automated, telescopes equipped with CCD cameras in their backyards. Others will use home computers to make remote observations with more powerful telescopes states or continents away. Many belong to leading national and international amateur astronomy organizations with members ranging from retirees to school kids.
Researchers on NASA’s robotic asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx, are turning to amateur astronomers for new data on near-Earth asteroids in a citizen science observing campaign called “Target Asteroids!” The campaign starts in April 2012 and will last at least to the end of this decade.
The full name of the OSIRIS-REx mission is Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is to launch in 2016, reach a well-characterized primitive asteroid called (101955) 1999 RQ36 in 2019, examine that body up close during a 505-day rendezvous, then return at least 60 grams of it to Earth in 2023.
“Asteroids are a rich and accessible historic archive of the origin of our Solar System and life, a valuable source of mineral resources, and potentially hazardous Earth impactors that civilization must learn to deal with,” said OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “Our mission will address all these issues.”
1999 RQ36 — a 500-meter-diameter, dark carbonaceous asteroid — is difficult for even powerful Earth-based telescopes to observe at this time because it is relatively distant from Earth.
“Amateur astronomers are asked to observe asteroids selected because they are in near-Earth orbits that can be reached by current-generation spacecraft and are at least 200 meters in diameter,” said Target Asteroids! scientist Carl Hergenrother, head of the OSIRIS-REx astronomy working group.
“Precise orbits, sizes, rotation rates, physical composition and other important characteristics for these asteroids are largely unknown, ” Hergenrother said.
“We want amateur astronomers to do astrometry (which precisely measures positions of objects), photometry (which measures brightness) and spectroscopy (which measures the colors, or wavelengths, of light) to discover as much as we can about these objects,” he said.
“These will be challenging objects to observe because they are very faint,” said Target Asteroids! coordinator Dolores Hill of the OSIRIS-REx education and public outreach program. “Amateur astronomers may have to make what are called ‘track and stack’ observations,” a technique that acquires and adds multiple short images.
“One of the major goals of having amateur astronomers on board is they can observe these objects every night, unlike professional astronomers who may get to telescopes once every few nights, or more typically once a month or every three months,” Hergenrother said.
People don’t need to own their own telescopes or live under clear skies to work on Target Asteroids!, Hergenrother and Hill emphasized.
For not much money, observers can now go online and sign up to use a growing network of quality robotic telescopes sited at some of the choicest astronomical spots in the country, they added.
Scientists will compare data from amateur and professional astronomers’ ground-based observations with data from OSIRIS-REx spacecraft instruments to learn more about Earth-crossing asteroids and identify likely candidates for future asteroid missions, they said.
For more information see the Target Asteroids! web page.