planetary resources

Planetary Resources, the Planetary Society, and The Museum of Flight are partnering in the crowd sourcing of a “Space Telescope for Everyone.” And the perks are amazing and, frankly, cheap. $25 for a picture of yourself in space. $200 for the ability to photograph an astronomical object from an observatory in space. 

I purchased package that gives time on the telescope to a classroom as well as curricula and other resources. 

These are opportunities that not only didn’t exist until recently, they COULDN’T EXIST! Without the cultural concept of crowd funding and the technological progress in optics and computing, this would literally be impossible. 

In fact, it still seems a little bit impossible to me…but these people are very very serious…and the cooles thing is that they’re serious about making the world a better place, educating future scientists, and building an optimistic, abundant future. This is a pretty inspiring place to be…and a pretty inspiring time to exist. 

Support the project here.

Congressional Hearing Slams Feasibility Of Asteroid Mining:

Two congressmen recently introduced the ASTEROIDS Act, which would grant property rights to companies seeking to mine the asteroid belt. Yesterday, the House Space Subcommittee held a hearing on the bill, where expert testimony bluntly told Congress the private sector is not up to the task of mining in space.

The American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act — also known as H.R. 5063 — was introduced this past July by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). The two congressmen, both members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, declared in a joint statement that the bill would not only create more jobs but also safeguard America’s economic security:

“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.

“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.

The legislation has the support of several organizations and companies that comprise the “NewSpace community,” which is dedicated to promoting innovative commercial ventures as the primary means to expand our presence beyond the Earth. That includes two U.S. companies that are actively developing plans for asteroid mining: Deep Space Industries (DSI) and Planetary Resources.

The initiative has also been tentatively endorsed by the Planetary Society as a way to build an off-world infrastructure for space exploration, by making use of resources extracted and manufactured in space — what is known as “in situ resource utilization” (ISRU). At yesterday’s hearing, James F. Bell, the president of The Planetary Society and a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, testified that:

The issue of resources on asteroids is particularly compelling, not only from the scientific perspective noted above, but also as we begin to imagine a future where humanity is moving outward beyond our home world, exploring and settling new frontiers in our solar system. Just like many of the settlers who moved to the American West in the 19th century, settlers moving outward from Earth in the 21st century and beyond will want to try to figure out how to “live off the land” as much as possible. Based on what we know now, there’s good reason to believe that asteroids could provide many of the raw natural resources that humans will need to live and work beyond Earth. Some are water-bearing (and thus, oxygen-bearing), others have significant concentrations of metals and silicates useful as building materials. Based on meteorite studies, some are even likely to contain significant amounts of precious metals. All of these attributes make asteroids potentially economically attractive targets for future resource extraction.

While the extraction of space-based resources from asteroids is certainly still many years away, The Planetary Society believes that it would be wise to start making the required investments in technology, infrastructure, and transportation systems required to study asteroids in the level of detail needed to make truly informed future decisions about their individual resource potential. As such, we support investments, through both commercial and governmental programs, in the kinds of technologies needed for the exploration and utilization of asteroids as contemplated in H.R. 5063.

The Long Road Ahead

The most detailed testimony at the hearing was also the most skeptical. Mark Sykes, the Director of the Planetary Science Institute and a co-investigator on the NASA Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres, bluntly stated that, “The development of an NEO ISRU infrastructure is beyond the scope of private enterprise.”

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Sykes believes that such an endeavor might one day be feasible, but not without first overcoming several hurdles that will likely require funding on a scale that could only be provided by the government. In fact, he reminds us, we’re not even sure about the precise composition of asteroids, which is crucial to planning mining operations:

We have some idea of their composition from remote spectroscopic observations and by picking up meteorites on the surface of the Earth and analyzing them. However, while spectra provide important clues to composition, they do not necessarily provide detailed information on bulk minerals comprising an asteroid. ….Likewise, meteorites represent only a small fraction of the mass of the asteroid entering the Earth’s atmosphere and do not necessarily present a complete picture of its composition.

Commercial asteroid resource extraction requires an understanding of the composition and mechanical properties of the material to be processed, and an understanding of how to do this under low-gravity conditions….In fact, it is unknown the extent to which any asteroid is compositionally homogeneous ….Extraction processes will have to be developed that accommodate a range of compositions …. At some point there would have to be the demonstration of an autonomous resource recovery facility on a near-Earth asteroid. There is then the need to assess the resource that has been extracted, determine the need for subsequent processing into usable material (e.g., water may need to be purified and then converted to hydrogen and oxygen, liquefied, and stored).

All this basic science and engineering is something beyond the scope of reasonable investment by a commercial entity, because there would be no expectation of return in investment on a reasonable timescales. I expect it would take a couple of decades to get to the point when one could answer the question of whether, with some level infrastructure in place, the marginal cost of processing and returning water from an asteroid would be cheaper than bringing it up from the surface of the Earth. Given the potential long-term benefit of a positive outcome in opening up the solar system to expanded human activity, this is a logical area of governmental investment. Once the basic science is known and basic technologies supporting this effort are developed, this would be the logical time for the private sector to come in and see if it could do things more cost-effectively.

Ad Astra, Contra Legem?

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And then there’s the tiny detail about whether granting asteroid mining rights to U.S. companies is legal under international law.

Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, a prominent legal expert who was formerly the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Space Law, testified that current treaties do appear to allow for the appropriation of natural resources from other planets and asteroids. However, what remains unclear is the ownership status of the resources when they are collected.

Michael Listner, an attorney who counsels governmental and private organizations on matters relating to space law and policy, raised similar concerns when I interviewed him for a previous article. Those in the commercial sector, who believe private ownership of resources extracted from space is legal, point to a British legal decision, which permitted the private sale of lunar soil that had been obtained by the Soviet Union. Listner, however, said:

My opinion is that the effect of the Soviet lunar sample precedent will be negligible when it is compared to the potentially trillions of dollars in mineral resources that could be extracted. The sale of the Soviet lunar sample was so minuscule that the international community hardly batted an eyelash….

The ASTEROID Act does score points for being crafted with international law in mind. It calls upon the U.S. government to:

Promote the right of United States commercial entities to explore and utilize resources from asteroids in outer space, in accordance with the existing international obligations of the United States, free from harmful interference, and to transfer or sell such resources; and develop the frameworks necessary to meet the international obligations of the United States.

But the “free from harmful interference” statement is problematic. The legislation further defines it as:

As between any entities over which the United States can exercise jurisdiction, any assertion of superior right to execute specific commercial asteroid resource utilization activities in outer space shall prevail if it is found to be first in time, derived upon a reasonable basis, and in accordance with all existing international obligations of the United States.

Sykes points out why this could quickly turn ugly:

Under the current language, I could today take published observations of near-Earth objects by the NASA Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope, identify those with low albedo (enhancing their probability of being water sources), and lay claim to the 100 objects having the most favorable orbits for low-energy missions with good dynamical opportunities for returns of material to Earth orbit. Resource recovery may be decades in the future, but under the terms of this bill I can make an “assertion of superior right” by being “first in time, derived upon a reasonable basis” to have made that assertion and assuming it is “in accordance with all existing international obligations of the United States.” I can effectively increase the future costs of those who might be compelled to pay me for access to “my” asteroids or go to a less dynamically favorable resource target.

And the Wild West’s gold rush begins anew.

A Telescope For the People, By The People

Check out Planetary Resources, Inc. (the folks behind that super-cool asteroid mining venture!) and their newly announced project to crowdfund a space telescope. This small (8") scope will be a fully functional eye on the cosmos, and Planetary Resources is asking for your help to get it built. Check out their Kickstarter page to donate!

What’s the benefit of donating? If you give more than $25, you get your picture projected on a tiny screen in front of the telescope, and a keepsake photo of you with the Earth in the background. That definitely beats that Instagram you took this weekend! Even better, classrooms and scientists will be able to buy time on the telescope to look at, well, whatever they want to!

I suspect they won’t have any trouble reaching their goal of $1 million. We are on the brink of some amazing new adventures in private space missions, and this is an inspiring sign of things to come.

Phil Plait has more coverage here, and here’s Bill Nye and PRI’s Peter Diamandis talking about the Arkyd 100:

Keep looking up!

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Luxembourg announced Asteroid Mining Initiative

The Luxembourg Government announced a series of measures to position Luxembourg as a European hub in the exploration and use of space resources. Amongst the key steps undertaken, as part of the spaceresources.lu initiative, will be the development of a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEO’s) such as asteroids.

Luxembourg will also invest in relevant R&D projects and consider direct capital investment in companies active in this field.

The country’s deputy prime minister, Étienne Schneider, said: “Our aim is to open access to a wealth of previously unexplored mineral resources, on lifeless rocks hurtling through space, without damaging natural habitats. We will support the long-term economic development of new, innovative activities in the space and satellite industries as a key high-tech sector for Luxembourg. At first, our aim is to carry out research in this area, which at a later stage can lead to more concrete activities in space.“

[press statement]

Planetary Resources infographic about high value materials in asteroids that they wish to exploit to bring the dreams of the 1950’s and 1960’s into being.

Want to be involved? Donate to the Kickstarter appeal for the Arkyd 100 Space Telescope, controllable by YOU.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1458134548/arkyd-a-space-telescope-for-everyone-0

Asteroid-Mining Project Aims for Deep-Space Colonies

image: An artist’s concept of a wheel habitat under construction at an asteroid, a vision of space settlement by the asteroid-mining company Deep Space Industries.
CREDIT: Deep Space Industries

A new asteroid-mining company launched Tuesday with the goal of helping humanity expand across the solar system by tapping the vast riches of space rocks.

The new firm, called Deep Space Industries, Inc., announced today (Jan. 22) that it plans to launch a fleet of prospecting spacecraft in 2015, then begin harvesting metals and water from near-Earth asteroids within a decade or so. Such work could make it possible to build and refuel spacecraft far above our planet’s surface, thus helping our species get a foothold in the final frontier.

“Using resources harvested in space is the only way to afford permanent space development,” Deep Space CEO David Gump said in a statement. Deep Space Industries will hold a press conference today in Santa Monica, Calif., at 10 a.m. PST (1 p.m. EST/1800 GMT) to unveil more details of its bold mission plan; you can watch the webcast live here at SPACE.com.

“More than 900 new asteroids that pass near Earth are discovered every year,” Gump explained. “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.” [Deep Space Industries’ Asteroid-Mining Vision in Photos]

Deep Space is the second company to jump into the asteroid-mining business. The first, the billionaire-backed firm Planetary Resources, had its own unveiling last April.

Prospecting spacecraft and asteroid sample-return
Deep Space will inspect potential mining targets with 55-pound (25 kilograms) spacecraft it calls Firefly, the first of which are targeted for launch in 2015.

Fireflies will conduct asteroid reconnaissance on the cheap. They’ll be made from low-cost “cubesat” components and will hitch a ride to space aboard rockets that also carry large communications satellites, Deep Space officials said.

“We can make amazing machines smaller, cheaper and faster than ever before,” Deep Space chairman Rick Tumlinson said in a statement. “Imagine a production line of Fireflies, cocked and loaded and ready to fly out to examine any object that gets near the Earth.”

The Firefly fleet’s work will pave the way for 70-pound (32 kg) spacecraft called Dragonfly, which will blast off beginning in 2016. These Dragonflies will bring asteroid samples back to Earth during missions that last two to four years. Some samples will help the company determine mining targets, while others will probably be sold to researchers and collectors, officials said.

The public will get to fly along with both probes, whose activities will likely be funded in some measure by corporate sponsorship, Deep Space officials said.

“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,” Gump said. “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.”

Building and refueling spacecraft off Earth
These activities are all precursors to Deep Space’s ultimate goal, which is the harvesting and in-space utilization of asteroid resources.

The company intends to begin extracting metals and other building materials from space rocks within 10 years, officials said. These components will first be used to build communications satellites off-Earth, with the construction of space-based solar power stations coming later. Precious metals such as platinum will also be delivered to Earth for terrestrial use.

Deep Space’s construction activities will be aided by a patent-pending 3D printer called the MicroGravity Foundry, officials said.

“The MicroGravity Foundry is the first 3D printer that creates high-density, high-strength metal components even in zero gravity,” company co-founder and MicroGravity Foundry inventor Stephen Covey said in a statement. “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.”

Deep Space Industries will also focus on extracting asteroid water, which can be split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen — the chief components of rocket fuel. The company’s mining efforts could thus lead to the establishment of in-space “gas stations” that allow satellites and journeying spacecraft to top up their tanks relatively cheaply and efficiently.

“We will only be visitors in space until we learn how to live off the land there,” Tumlinson said. “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.”

Deep Space Industries’ ambitions are similar to those of Planetary Resources, which also plans to tap asteroid metals and water to help open the solar system up to exploration and exploitation.

Planetary Resources could prove to be a tough competitor. It was founded by private-spaceflight pioneers Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, and its deep-pocketed investors include Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.

WATCH: Planetary Resources Unveils Asteroid-Hunting Telescope

ARKYD stretch goals announced on Kickstarter.

Planetary Resources claim their ARKYD space telescope is the ‘first publicly accessible space telescope’, and with 13 days left on their Kickstarter campaign there’s still time to support the project and have a say in how the telescope is used.

The campaign is about to reach it’s US$1,000,000 goal, and if they can double that the telescope will be modified to allow it to search for exoplanets.

“Planetary Resources, in collaboration with our partner 3D Systems, have developed the first ever direct metal print from asteroid metals. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) today in Las Vegas, NV., we unveiled the geometric object on the Engadget stage.” (via Planetary Resources)

[Disclosure, I’m part of Planetary Resources Vanguard program - Lee]

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New crazy space entrepreneurs Planetary Resources want to mine asteroids for stuff.

NASA Considers Tugging An Asteroid Into Orbit Around The Moon

Rather than sending humans into deep space, why not bring the asteroids to us?
image: Arkyd Series 200 Interceptor, as Envisioned by Planetary Resources Planetary Resources Inc.

NASA’s (and President Obama’s) vision for sending a manned space mission to a distant asteroid by the 2020s doesn’t seem to be gaining much steam, but a conceptual mission under development by the Keck Institute for Space Studies in California could bring an asteroid much closer to home in that timeframe. An estimated $2.6 billion could fund a mission that would send a robotic spacecraft out into interplanetary space and drag an asteroid into orbit around the moon where robots and even humans could explore it far more conveniently.

The reasons for doing this are many. For one, a manned mission beyond the moon to a faraway asteroid would likely take six months or more to reach even the closest passing asteroid of interest. During that time out from under the protective umbrella of Earth’s magnetic field, astronauts would be exposed to long periods of cosmic radiation–the effects of which aren’t exactly defined. Moreover, it would be costly, dangerous, and might not yield that much scientific benefit. But an asteroid in orbit around the moon meshes well with some other initiatives NASA has cooking, including placing a fixed space station at a Lagrange point on the far side of the moon from which human inhabitants could tele-robotically explore the moon (and, if available, an asteroid).

The Keck concept calls for an Atlas V rocket to launch a slow-moving, solar/ion powered spacecraft toward a rendezvous with a target asteroid. This wouldn’t be an Earth killer or anything even close–the Keck study calls for something in 20-25 feet wide. The spacecraft would then literally haul the asteroid in a huge bag back to lunar orbit. Total mission duration: six to 10 years.

NASA’s not the first entity to speak seriously of moving asteroids into more favorable orbits for human observation (and consumption). Last year billionaire-backed private space startup Planetary Resources announced an ambitious agenda to explore and mine minerals from asteroids, including potentially moving a target asteroid from deep space into an orbit more accessible to mining robots. The idea is not only to extract minerals for export back to earth, but also to create “orbital gas stations” where water ice on asteroids could be processed into hydrogen and oxygen to refuel rockets in space. That’s an idea that’s also been kicked around NASA over the years where the future of deep space travel is concerned. Pulling a small asteroid into lunar orbit would be a good start.

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Video: Planetary Resources on ‘Why Asteroid Mining Will Fuel Human Expansion Into The Cosmos".

Well worth a watch at only 2:26 long.

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Asteroid Mining Company Will be Supported by Engineering Giant Bechtel

A huge vote of confidence for asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources.

“Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc. announced this week that engineering giant Bechtel has joined their core group of investors and will be a collaborative partner in helping them to achieve its long-term mission, which is to mine near-Earth asteroids for raw materials, ranging from elements used in rocket fuel to precious metals, through the development of innovative and cost-effective robotic exploration technologies. Planetary Resources says that they already have multiple contracts to develop miniaturized and responsive technologies with far-reaching applications to space assessment, accessibility and resource recovery.” - Scienceworldreport.com

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(Photo : Planetary Resources)
“Orbiting the asteroid, the Arkyd 300 ‘Rendezvous Prospector’ will collect data on the asteroid’s shape, rotation, density, and surface and sub-surface composition.”

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ARKYD A Space Telescope for Everyone by Planetary Resources: UPDATE

Surveys are being sent out to your pledged account. If you pledged, you will receive a survey to confirm your pledge and other add ons like patches and t-shirts. FILL OUT THIS SURVEY by August 2nd! 

At the top you can see a very nice message at the end of the survey that really makes you feel so proud for being apart of such an amazing venture in taking science to higher levels of communication and interest. This is an awesome time to be apart of something like this. For those of you who missed out the first time, head on over to ARKYD Kickstarter for information on their grace period which plans on reopening the pledging.

Planetary Resources has officially revealed its plans now, at an event in the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Couched in some hugely positive language, Peter Diamandis and other team members revealed that they’re building a fleet of vehicles to achieve their goal–with the first launch planned for just 24 months (a hugely ambitious timeframe). The Arkyd 100 series will be Earth-orbit commercial space telescopes to begin the “prospecting” job of spotting near-Earth asteroids that are likely candidates. The Arkyd 200 series will extend this mission out of low orbit, and the Arkyd 300 series will survey asteroids up close. Their asteroid capturing plan seems manyfold, with some larger asteroids perhaps being strip-mined, other smaller ones captured in a shroud and sent back for processing.

The goal is to boost the economy of Earth by bringing the “solar system within the economic sphere of influence” of us down here, and also to protect Earth’s precious resources.

How (And Why) To Mine An Asteroid