Planetary Resources has shown a roadmap for its future missions. Not surprisingly, the near-term missions are much better defined. Details on the final phase (asteroid mining) are hard to come by. That’s not surprising at this point. As Planetary Resources says, “Recovery and processing of materials… will occur through significant research and development.”

Yet, they’ve apparently determined one detail already. At yesterday’s press conference, it was stated that all of their projects (presumably including the mining phase) would be robotic. That’s not unexpected given the technical team. Chris Lewicki and Cris Voorhees come from the robots uber ulles branch of space science. If they’re successful, capturing and moving an asteroid would be the largest single project ever undertaken entirely by robotics. It remains to be seen whether that’s possible or whether Planetary Resources will ultimately change its plans and accept the need to have humans onsite for supervision and troubleshooting. There’s still plenty of time for mid-course corrections, of course, since any asteroid capture is years away.

Planetary Resources robot captures water-rich asteroid

 

Written by Astro1 on April 25th, 2012 , Planetary Resources Tags: ,

Planetary Resources Inc., formerly Arkyd Astronautics, revealed a ambitious multistage plan to harvest extraterrestrial resources during a press held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA.

The company, based in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, has been working quietly for the last three years to develop the plan, which includes space telescopes in Earth orbit, probes to investigate near-Earth asteroids, and ultimately a system to capture an asteroid and return it to Earth orbit.

Asteroid resources include water for use in space and scarce metals for use on Earth. A single 500-meter platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history, according to Planetary Resources.

“Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space,” said Peter Diamandis, co-founder and co-chairman the board. “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.”

The first phase in the plan would involve launching a series of Arkyd 100 space telescopes into Low Earth Orbit. Each Arkyd telescope would cost a few million dollars, including launch. Arkyd satellites are designed for rideshare missions and do not require dedicated launches.

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Written by Astro1 on April 24th, 2012 , Planetary Resources Tags:

While Planetary Resources was preparing to announce its plans to capture an asteroid, Moon Express announced progress on its $10-million Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program (ILDD) contract with NASA and reminded us of its plans to prospect and mine the Moon for metals and water deposited by millions of years of asteroid bombardment.

Moon Express, a contender for the Google Lunar X Prize, has just delivered a Preliminary Design Checkpoint Technical Package to NASA. The package, one in a series of ILDD deliverables, contains details of mission operations, spacecraft development, payload accommodations, and planetary-protection plans. Silicon Valley-based Moon Express was one of three US companies to receive contracts the ILDD program in 2010. Although the ILDD contract demonstrates NASA’s interest in commercial lunar providers, the majority of Moon Express funding comes from private investors and revenues from payload customers.

Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said, “The Moon is an asteroid magnet. In addition to resource abundance, the Moon is right next door and does us the favor of pre-processing and storing the asteroid material so we can access it cost-effectively and safely with known technologies.”

Microsoft billionaire and Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain described the Moon as “the Earth’s eighth continent, potentially the largest repository of asteroid resources in the solar system.”

“Thanks to Apollo and robotic explorations, as well as lunar meteorites, we have widely sampled the Moon and have a good understanding of what’s accumulated there from eons of asteroid and cometary bombardment,” according to Dr. Stern, Moon Express Chief Scientist and former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. “Recent data from lunar probes has discovered water at the lunar poles and bound within the lunar soil that could potentially change the economics of lunar exploration.”

 

Written by Astro1 on April 24th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General) Tags: ,

A new citizen-science project from NASA is enlisting amateur astronomers to help discover near-Earth asteroids and study their characteristics.

The project, called Target Asteroids, will support NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission. OSIRIS-REx, which will study material from asteroid 1999 RQ36, is scheduled for launch in 2016.

Amateur astronomers participating in the project will help characterize the near-Earth asteroid population by recording their position, motion, rotation, and changes in brightness. Professional astronomers will use the information to refine theoretical models, improving their understanding of asteroids similar to the one OSIRIS-REx will encounter in 2019.

OSIRIS-REx will map the asteroid’s global properties, measure non-gravitational forces, and make observations that can be compared with data from telescopes on Earth. In 2023, OSIRIS-REx will return to Earth with 60 grams of surface material from the asteroid.

Previous observations indicate 1999 RQ36 is made of primitive materials. OSIRIS-REx data will provide new insights into the nature of the early solar system and the building blocks that led to life on Earth.

Amateur astronomers have provided tracking observations in support of NASA’s Near Earth Object Observation Program for more than 10 years. This traching data is important for selecting targets for asteroid missions such as OSIRIS-REx.

“Although few amateur astronomers have the capability to observe 1999 RQ36 itself, they do have the capability to observe other targets,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Partner organizations in the Target Asteroid program include the International Astronomical Search Collaboration, the Astronomical League, the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, Oceanside Photo and Telescope, the NASA Night Sky Network, the University of Arizona Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, and the Catalina Sky Survey.

For more information on Target Asteroids, or to register for the program, click here.

Written by Astro1 on April 18th, 2012 , Astronomy, Planetary science Tags:

A look at where NASA could be going in a few years. The artists have taken some liberties with the mission timeline, of course. Astronauts would spend a lot more time exploring the target.

 

Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General) Tags:

Ceres Earth Moon size comparison

The endless debate over NASA’s next destination resembles a food fight between the Moonmen and the Mars advocates. The near Earth asteroids get no respect from either side. That lack of respect seems kind of strange, considering some near-Earth asteroids have a potential ability to destroy all life on Earth. One would expect that sort of death-dealing ability to merit at least a little respect. Nevertheless, near-Earth asteroids are ridiculed as mere “rubble piles” and any proposed visit is a “mission to nowhere.”

Ultimately, this debate is silly. The only real answer to the designation question is “All of the Above.” If we develop low-cost access to space, supporting infrastructure such as propellant depots, and deep-space exploration exploration ships like JSC’s proposed Nautilus-X, we can go anywhere in the solar system. Without such capabilities, we’re going nowhere.

Having said that, let’s play the destination game just this once. We’d like to put in a pitch for a dark horse candidate.
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Written by Astro1 on March 30th, 2012 , Astrobiology, Space Exploration (General) Tags:

Los Alamos National Laboratory has used a massively parallel supercomputer to simulate the effects of a nuclear weapon on an Earth-crossing asteroid.

Written by Astro1 on March 12th, 2012 , Planetary Defense Tags:

Dr. Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute Department of Space Science puts the risk of asteroid impacts in perspective:

The average American’s chances of dying as a result of an asteroid impact is about the same as an average American’s chances of dying in a tornado….  the chances of death and destruction by cosmic impact are on the same order for Americans as death by airliner crash, flood, tornado, and other hazards society takes seriously, it is reasonable that the impact hazard be taken seriously. In fact, an asteroid impact is a much more serious hazard, statistically speaking, than many other hazards we have experienced in the last few decades, including death by terrorism, by nuclear power plant accident, by shark attacks, etc. And cosmic impacts – if large enough – are nearly unique (along with nuclear war and perhaps some “Andromeda Strain” pandemic) of having the possibility of sending civilization back into a Dark Age or even exterminating our species…

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Written by Astro1 on February 20th, 2012 , Planetary Defense Tags: