News From Space: 12 Asteroids to Mine

asteroidsLast year, the private space exploration company Planetary Resources announced that they intended to being prospecting and mining asteroids in the near future. And while they are certainly not alone in their intention to make this happen (Deep Space Industries has the same intention), many have asked if humanity is ready to begin extracting resources from the Asteroid Belt, at least as far as our level of technology is concerned.

In response, a group of astronomers at the University of Strathclyde in the UK did their own study and concluded that it is indeed possible with current rocket technology. What’s more, they conducted a survey of the Asteroid Belt and identified 12 near-Earth asteroids that could be easily retrieved and mined, and which are believed to contain high concentrations of precious and industrial metals.

asteroid_mining_robotAlready, it has been estimated that an asteroid as small as one-kilometer in diameter could contain upwards of two billion tons of iron-nickel ore, which is three times the global yield on Earth. Then there is the likely presence of gold, platinum, and other rare substances. Planetary Resources claims a 30-meter object of the right composition could contain $25 to $50 billion in platinum.

These numbers spurred the University of Strathclyde team, led by Garcia Yarnoz, to pour over the astronomical data on near-Earth objects to see if any of them could actually be snared. To their surprise, they found 12 small asteroids that pass close enough to Earth that they could be corralled into the L1 or L2 Lagrangian points for mining operations. The researchers dubbed these asteroids Easily Retrievable Objects (EROs).

NASA_moonLagrange points refer to points where the gravity of Earth an another celestial object balance out. If anything enters one of these areas, it stays put, which is precisely what you want to do if you are looking to study it, mine it, or just keep it where its accessible. The L1 and L2 Lagrangian points are where the gravity of Earth and the sun are at a draw, roughly 1.6 million km (1 million miles) from Earth and about four times the distance to the moon.

The 12 candidate asteroids all have orbits that take them near the L1 or L2 Lagrangian points, so they would need only a small push to get them to the right spot. Yarnoz and his team estimate that changing the velocity of these objects by less than 500 meters per second would be sufficient, and this could be completed as early as 2026.

asteroid_DA14One of the important criteria in selected 12 mineable asteroids from the database of 9,000 near-Earth objects was size. Nudging a larger asteroid safely to a Lagrange point is simply not feasible with the current state of technology. In fact, most of the EROs that were identified in the study range between two to 20 meters, but that’s still large enough to contain substantial resources.

These 12 objects are probably a small fraction of EROs floating around near Earth. We know where many more of the big space rocks are because they’re much easier to see, but there might be a wealth of resource-rich small asteroids near the Lagrangian points ripe for the picking. And with time, and more orbital telescopes to spot them with, we can expect the list of mineable asteroids to grow.

Source: extremetech.com

News From Space: Arkyd Telescope and Shenzhou 10

spacex-icarus-670It seems that every day, the frontiers of space exploration are being pushed. In recent months, two stories occurred close to home (relatively speaking) that have stuck out in my memory. The first had to do with Planetary Resources plan to commission the world’s first crowdfunded telescope. The second came from China, where the new Shenzou 10 space ship launched on its way to dock with the prototype Tiangong-1 space station.

These stories were both groundbreaking for a number of reasons. Arkyd’s plan for a publicly-owned and funded telescope is not only an historic first, its also a major step forward in the creation of a new era of space exploration, one which is far more open and democratic than before. The second story represents a major leap for China as a major power, and their plans to conduct research aboard the Tiangong-1 shows a commitment to opening their space program to the public.

ARKYD-in-SpaceAnd as it happens, there have been recent developments on both fronts. On June 20th, less than a week ago, the Arkyd space telescope passed their goal of $1 million with its Kickstarter campaign. But perhaps to keep the money flowing, the company announced an ambitious aim to add extrasolar planet searching  to the list they can double that goal to $2 million.

And they’ve set some other fundraising milestones just to keep things interesting:

  • $1.3 million: A ground station at an undisclosed “educational partner” that would double the download speed of data from the orbiting observatory.
  • $1.5 million: This goal, just released yesterday, is aimed at the more than 20,000 people who signed up for “space selfies” incentive where uploaded pictures are photographed on the telescope while it is in orbit. For this goal, “beta selfies” will be taken while the telescope is in the integration phase of the build.
  • $1.7 million: The milestone will be announced if Arkyd reaches 15,000 backers. (It has more than 12,000 as of this

With five days remaining and a total of $1,189,359 now raised, they are not likely to break that ceiling. Still, the company’s plan to begin prospecting asteroids for the sake of future mining efforts now seems well within reach. Best of luck to them!

shenzhou10_tiangong1As for China’s Shenzhou 10, in an event that was captured on film, the space module is now docked with the Tiangong-1 space station and made a scenic transit in front of the sun. Astrophotographer Terry Legault had less than half a second to capture these incredible shots, but managed to get not one, but two shots in two consecutive days. Not an easy task to pull off, let alone twice!

If you look closely at the picture above, you can just make out Tiangong-1 station to the right of the sun, located below and to the left of a large cluster of sun spots. This top image is a crop of a full-face view of the Sun, taken with white light filters by Thierry from southern France on June 16, just after noon UTC. The transit duration was just 0.46 seconds, the distance of the spacecraft to observer was 365 km away, and the spacecraft was traveling at 7.4km/s (26,500 km/h or 16,500 mph).

shenzhou10_tiangong3This second imagine was taken the next day, again from the south of France, at 12:34:24 UTC on June 17, 2013. This one, in Hydrogen-alpha shows the Shenzhou-10/Tiangong-1 complex in multiple shots over the 0.46 second transit. Click on the photo to get the full resolution, then zoom in to see multiple shots of station as it made its transit across the face of the sun.

In a previous interview with Universe Today, Thierry explained how he prepares to take images like these:

For transits I have to calculate the place, and considering the width of the visibility path is usually between 5-10 kilometers, but I have to be close to the center of this path, because if I am at the edge, it is just like a solar eclipse where the transit is shorter and shorter. And the edge of visibility line of the transit lasts very short. So the precision of where I have to be is within one kilometer.”

Legault studies maps, and has a radio synchronized watch to know very accurately when the transit event will happen.

My camera has a continuous shuttering for 4 seconds, so I begin the sequence 2 seconds before the calculated time. I don’t look through the camera – I never see the space station when it appears, I am just looking at my watch!

Kudos to the man for once again capturing images of the heavens and sharing them with the world. And exciting times these are, when space exploration is once again booming and the frontiers of tomorrow are increasingly within our reach.

Sources: universetoday.com, (2), legault.perso.sfr.fr

NASA’s Vision: Robots to Help Mine Asteroids

asteroid_mining_robotIn a recent study, NASA shared a vision that sounds like something out of a science fiction novel. Basically, the plan calls for the creation of robots that could be sent to a nearby asteroid, assemble itself, and then begin mining the asteroid itself. The scientists behind this study say that not only will this be possible within a few generations of robotics, but will also pay for itself – a major concern when it comes to space travel.

A couple of factors are pointing to this, according to the researchers. One, private industry is willing and able to get involved, as attested to by Golden Spike, SpaceX and Planetary Resources. Second, advances in technologies such as 3-D printing are making off-world work more feasible, which can be seen with plans to manufacture a Moon base and “sintering”.

asteroidsBut also, humanity’s surveys of space resources – namely those located in the asteroid belt – have revealed that the elements needed to make rubber, plastic and alloys needed for machinery are there in abundance. NASA proposes that a robotic flotilla could mine these nearby space rocks, process the goods, and then ship them back to Earth.

Best of all, the pods being sent out would save on weight (and hence costs) by procuring all the resources and constructing the robots there. They caution the technology won’t be ready tomorrow, and more surveys will need to be done of nearby asteroids to figure out where to go next. There is, however, enough progress to see building blocks. As the agency stated in their research report:

Advances in robotics and additive manufacturing have become game-changing for the prospects of space industry. It has become feasible to bootstrap a self-sustaining, self-expanding industry at reasonably low cost…

asteroid_belt1Phil Metzger, a senior research physicist at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, who led the study, went on to explain how the process is multi-tiered and would encompass several generations of progress:

Robots and machines would just make the metal and propellants for starters… The first generation of robots makes the second generation of hardware, except the comparatively lightweight electronics and motors that have to be sent up from Earth. It doesn’t matter how much the large structures weigh because you didn’t have to launch it.

A computer model in the study showed that in six generations of robotics, these machines will be able to construct themselves and operate without any need of materials from Earth.

asteroid_foundryAt least two startups are likely to be on board with this optimistic appraisal. For example, Deep Space Industries and Planetary, both commercial space companies, have proposed asteroid mining ideas within the past year. And since then, Planetary Resources has also unveiled other projects such as a public space telescope, in part for surveying work and the sake of prospecting asteroids.

And this latest research report just takes thing a step farther. In addition to setting up autonomous 3D manufacturing operations on asteroids, these operations would be capable of setting themselves up and potentially upgrading themselves as time went on. And in the meantime, we could look forward to a growing and increasingly complex supply of manufactured products here on Earth.

Source: universetoday.com

The Arkyd 100: Crowdfunding Space Exploraiton

ARKYD-in-SpacePlanetary Resources made quite the impression last year when they announced their plans to begin prospecting near-Earth asteroids with in the intention of mining them in the near future. Alongside such companies as SpaceX and Golden Spike, they are part of a constellations of private interests looking to establish commercial space travel and tourism. But their latest proposal goes a step further, bringing crowdfunding and the realm of space exploration together.

That’s the idea behind a Kickstarter campaign that the company began to raise money for a crowdfunded space telescope. Known as the Arkyd 100, the company claims that this new telescope will provide unprecedented public access to space and place the most advanced exploration technology into the hands of students, scientists and a new generation of citizen explorers.

asteroid_miningTo make their campaign successful, they need to raise $1 million in Kickstarter pledges by the end of June 2013. Once the telescope is up and running, it will allow them to better map the asteroid belt, thus assisting them in finding the rocks they want to mine for precious metals and trace elements. And with public financial backers making it happen, anyone pledging money will be able to own a piece of the prospector!

During a webcast on May 28th to announce the Kickstarter campaign, Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer for Planetary Resources, gave a rundown on the details of the telescope. And interestingly enough, the Planetary Resources’ technical team that designed it also worked on every recent U.S. Mars lander and rover. So if you do choose to invest, you will do so with the knowledge that the same people who helped build the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are behind this project. If that doesn’t inspire investor confidence, I don’t know what will!

ARKYD-Space-SelfieA wide array of scientists, space enthusiasts and even Bill Nye the Science Guy have voiced their support for Planetary Resources’ new public space telescope. And those who invest will have the chance of recouping certain rewards, depending on how much they choose to pledge. Those pledging the minimum donation of $25 will receive the “Your Face in Space” benefit, where you will have you picture placed on the Arkyd and receive a picture of said photo the telescope with Earth in the background. Higher pledges will provide access to the telescope for students and researchers worldwide.

After less than 2 hours into their campaign, Planetary Resources had raised over $100,000. And as of this article’s writing, just one day shy of a week, the campaign has reached $710,945 of their $1 million goal, and they still have 27 days left. I guess people want a piece of this project. And who can blame them, since it is a scientific and historic first!

Check out the promotional video for the Arkyd and Planetary Resources below. To make a donation or get information about the Kickstarter campaign, visit the campaign page here.


Source:
universetoday.com

Asteriod Prospecting by 2015

asteroid_beltDeep Space Industries, a private aerospace company, has been making a big splash in the news lately. Alongside SpaceX, they have been pioneering a new age in space exploration, where costs are reduced and private companies are picking up the slack. And in their latest bid to claim a share of space, the company announced plans late in January to begin asteroid prospecting operations by 2015.

For some time, the concept of sending spaceships to mine asteroids and haul ore has been explored as a serious option. Within the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter, countless tons of precious metals, carbon, silicates, and basaltic minerals. If humanity could tap a fraction of a fraction of that mineral wealth, it would be able to supply Earth’s manufacturing needs indefinitely, without all the harmful pollutants or run off caused by mining.

asteroid_miningSo to tap this potential goldmine (literally!) known as the Asteroid Belt, DSI plans to launch a fleet of mini spacecraft into solar orbit to identify potential targets near to Earth that would be suitable to mine. Lacking the resources of some of the bigger players in the space rush, DSI’s probes will ride-share on the launch of larger communications satellites and get a discounted delivery to space.

Initially, a group of 25kg (55 pounds) cubesats with the awesome designation “Firefly” will be launched on a journey lasting from two to six months in 2015. Then, in 2016, the 32 kilograms (70 pound) DragonFly spacecraft will begin their two-to-four-year expeditions and return with up to 68 kilograms (150 pounds) of bounty each. Beyond this, DSI has some truly ambitious plans to establish a foundry amongst the asteroids.

asteroid_foundryThat’s another thing about the Belt. Not only is it an incredibly rich source of minerals, its asteroids would make an ideal place for relocating much of Earth’s heavy industry. Automated facilities, anchored to the surface and processing metals and other materials on site would also reduce the burden on Earth’s environment. Not only would there be no air to befoul with emissions, but the processes used would generate no harmful pollutants.

In DSI’s plan, the foundry would use a patent-pending nickel gas process developed by one of DSI’s co-founders, Stephen Covey, known as “sintering”. This is the same process that is being considered by NASA to build a Moon Base in the Shackleton Crater near the Moon’s south pole. Relying on this same technology, automated foundries could turn ore into finished products with little more than microwave radiation and a 3D printer, which could then be shipped back to Earth.

deepspaceindustries-640x353Naturally, DSI will have plenty of competition down the road. The biggest comes from Google-backed Planetary Resources which staked it claim to an asteroid last April. Much like DSI, they hope to be able to mine everything from water to fuel as well as minerals and rare earths. And of course, SpaceX, which has the most impressive track record thus far, is likely to be looking to the Asteroid Belt before long.

And Golden Spike, the company that is promising commercial flight to the Moon by 2020 is sure to not be left behind. And as for Virgin Galactic, well… Richard Branson didn’t get crazy, stinking rich by letting opportunities pass him by. And given the size and scope of the Belt itself, there’s likely to be no shortage of companies trying to stake a claim, and more than enough for everyone.

So get on board ye capitalist prospectors! A new frontier awaits beyond the rim of Mars…

Source: Extremetech.com

The Future is Here: Asteroid Mining!

The concept is not entirely new. In fact, it’s been a staple of science fiction for some time. Moving mining operations, refineries and even heavy industry to the Asteroid Belt as a way of reducing environmental stress and taking advantage of the sheer abundance of natural resources there. It was the concept behind Ben Bova’s The Asteroid Wars trilogy, and was even mentioned as early as 1898 in Garrett P. Serviss’ story Edison’s Conquest of Mars.

But as they say, science fiction leads to science fact. And when it comes to mining the asteroid belt, it seems some wealthy financiers and visionaries are hoping to get in on the ground floor. The company’s name is Planetary Resources, and its backers include James Cameron (of Aliens and Terminator fame) and Google founder Larry Page. Between these three forces, the idea and development capital are being made to being the commercial exploitation of our system’s many, many rocks.

The plan call for the development of viable space craft which will be able to fly out to the Belt, harvest materials, and then return. However, the long term projections involve the creation of mining colonies, heavily automated facilities that will be capable of taking in harvested rocks and ore and convert them to useable materials before they are ever brought back to Earth. After all, while every asteroid is a potential goldmine (literally!), the goal here is to eventually move the majority of the smelting and other potentially harmful operations off of Earth, into space and into orbit.

Click on the link below to read the full article and video below to learn the full extent of the company’s plans. Who knows? If the prospect looks good, maybe Cameron will want to buy the rights to Bova’s series and start making a series of promotional movies 😉

CBC News – Planetary Resources Inc.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/04/23/space-mining.html