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
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:
DeepSpaceIndustries.com/missions

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 www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative.

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.

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.

National Space Society Applauds NASA Asteroid Capture Plan

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.

NSS Executive Committee Chair Quoted on Fox News

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.

See full Fox News article.

Deep Space Industries Promotional Video

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.

See also the Deep Space Industries full press release and full press conference on the NSS Blog below.