Earth Independence

Dr. Doug Plata from The Space Development Network hosted a two part session on Earth independence. This involves the idea of reducing a future space colony's dependence on importing essential goods from Earth for survival. Independence from Earth can only be achieved via in-situ resource utilization, which is the process of converting local resources into required goods. Until this happens, any future space colony will be dependent on shipments from Earth for survival.

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“Don’t drink the water!” - Toxic Elements Found in Meteorites

A science team led by Alessondra Springmann found that heating up various types of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites released water as well as other volatile and toxic trace elements. Water is likely one of the very first resources that will be sourced from space for use in space. It is versatile for a variety of applications, including rocket propellant, consumption by astronauts, and bulk radiation shielding.

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Made In Space Interferometer

In-space manufacturing promises to be a key driver for developing space resource technologies. Building and assembling large structures in space allows the use of efficient designs that don’t require robust structures for the one time g-force requirements of launch. Made In Space has recently proposed a long-baseline interferometer that uses in-space manufacturing techniques for assembling opposing booms up to 50 m (164 ft) in length from a 24U small-sat chassis.

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Water on Itokawa and Processing It

Water has been directly observed from two samples returned from the S-type asteroid Itokawa. It was hypothesized that S-type asteroids contained low concentration water bearing minerals due to light curve data and studying similar minerals on Earth. However, the two Itokawa samples contained high concentrations of water at 698 and 988 parts per million weight, respectively. This holds great promise for asteroid processing targets if similar S-type asteroids have similar water concentrations.

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Lunar Polar Ice Everywhere, but Only on Surface

An international team of Chinese, American, and Russian scientists may have conducted the most extensive study of lunar Permanently Shadowed Region (PSR) ice yet performed. By comparing the reflections from flat surfaces in major PSRs to those of adjacent non-PSRs, they determined that the vast majority contain ice. However, the ice appears to be restricted to the uppermost surface.

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Why the Lunar South Pole?

NASA was recently directed to return to the Moon by 2024, an announcement first made in remarks given by Vice President Mike Pence at the 5th meeting of the National Space Council on March 26th. However this huge announcement and acceleration in schedule also came with another set of exciting details. He stated, the “lunar South Pole holds great scientific, economic, and strategic value” and that “when the first American astronauts return to the lunar surface, that they will take their first steps on the Moon’s South Pole.” But why the focus on the Moon’s south pole? He explored that as well, saying that we will “mine oxygen from lunar rocks” and “use nuclear power to extract water from the permanently shadowed craters of the South Pole”. These statements are exciting because they specifically include the use of in-situ resource utilization on the Moon, and select human landing locations near the South Pole due to proximity to those resources.

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Lunar Lava Tube Exploration

Lava tubes on the Moon represent an enticing location for establishing lunar habitats. In addition to providing protection from radiation and meteorites, lunar lava tubes have a stable temperature range compared to surface conditions. These characteristics will allow the building of safe, yet economical habitats in lava tubes. However, we must first explore and categorize lava tubes before establishing the first settlements in them. One likely platform for enabling this exploration is via the Moon Diver mission and the tethered Axel rover.

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Surface Strength of PSRs

Although multiple landers and rovers have touched down on the Moon, no vehicle has visited the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) at the lunar poles. Water ice has been observed within some PSRs, and therefore represents an ideal target for future lunar missions. An important unknown to study before the first PSR mission is understanding the surface environment, including how much mass the PSR regolith can support. It is critical that rover wheels and landing pads don’t sink into the regolith. To study this, a recent analysis used boulder tracks to evaluate the bearing capacity of regolith in these areas.

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The Space Resource Newsletter - March 2019

Welcome to The Space Resources monthly newsletter for March 2019. We have seen exciting news related to evidence of groundwater on Mars, hydrated minerals on Bennu, and NASA being challenged to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024. However, the Indian anti-satellite test and failure of UN talks to create a space disarmament treaty place a dark cloud on the horizon.

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More Questions than Answers at Bennu

After less than three months in orbit, the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission has already made several discoveries about the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Bennu. Most promising for resource utilization is the presence of water-bearing (hydrated) materials. However, the environment is dangerous with particle ejections from unknown sources, many large boulders, and an ever accelerating rotation rate. Asteroid exploration and processing missions are in for a challenge!

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Impacting Lunar Polar Ice

The permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) at the lunar poles represent prime locations for finding high concentrations of water bearing material on the Moon. Even though PSRs have been remotely observed for the past few decades, much is still unknown about these areas. Key questions include the origin of the ice, how extensive it is, and how it changes over time. A recent model addresses some of these questions by predicting how long near-surface ice should exists before being sublimated away.

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Advanced Composite Habitats

Extraterrestrial habitats are required for sustained human exploration of space. The trade-off between mass, size, and safety is a concern for all proposed systems. The goal is to provide a low mass system that is easy to transport, while providing maximum space to astronauts and protection from the harsh environment. In addition to large temperature swings, structures need to survive multiple g’s during transportation, radiation, and micrometeorite impacts.

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Modeling Ice in Asteroids

A key appeal for processing water from asteroids as opposed to the Moon is the low delta-V required to get to and from them. However, this assumes that water rich asteroids come near Earth. Scientists from the Planetary Science Institute have recently developed an analytical model that can help estimate if some near-Earth objects (NEOs) contain water ice.

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