The Space Resource Newsletter - October 2019

Artists illustration of the SpaceX Starship on the lunar surface. Credit: SpaceX.

Artists illustration of the SpaceX Starship on the lunar surface. Credit: SpaceX.

Welcome to The Space Resource monthly newsletter for October 2019. SpaceX announced aspirational lunar goal, NASA’s VIPER rover will survey the lunar south pole, and the first all female space walk. We welcome all story ideas, so please contact us or reply to this email with any ideas. If you are not already subscribed to this newsletter, please consider subscribing here.


Asteroids

JAXA’s Hayabusa2 deployed Minerva-II2 rover to the surface of asteroid Ryugu. This small rover is the third robot deployed to Ryugu’s surface, following the first two deployments (Minera-II1) in September 2018. Minera-II2’s mission is to measure Ryugu’s gravitational field, thermal environment, and captured additional images of the surface.

Water regeneration on asteroids. A NASA funded project showed that water can be regenerated on asteroids through the interactions of solar wind and thermal shocks created by impacting meteoroids. The discovery was identified via simulating space weathering on a Murchison meteorite, where lasers (mimicking meteoroid impacts) and energized electrons (simulating solar winds) allowed unbonded oxygen and hydrogen atoms to bond, creating water. This same process may be regenerating water on the Moon, explaining why we see young water at the polar PSRs. 10.1038/s41550-019-0900-2


Cislunar

Satellite launched to extend the life of 18 year old communication satellite. Intelsat 901 (IS-901) was launched in June 2001 for a 13 year mission to provide Ku-band coverage for Europe, and C-band coverage for the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of being decommissioned and moving to a graveyard orbit, the Space Logistics LLC Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) was launched to extend the life of IS-901 by five years. MEV-1 will dock with IS-901 and provide propulsion support. Once the five years are up, MEV-1 will move IS-901 to a graveyard orbit, and will be available for extending the life of another satellite. Link.

SpaceX seeks to expand Starlink to 42k satellites. In response to expected users’ needs, SpaceX is seeking spectrum access for an additional 30k LEO satellites for its already approved 12k satellite constellation. Currently, there are about 2k active satellites in Earth orbit, with about 23k trackable objects in orbit.

First all female space walk. NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history by completing the first all female space walk. Their objective was to replace a faulty battery charge/discharge unit (BCDU) that was on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS). The next great milestone will occur when the first woman lands on the lunar surface within the next few years.


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Mars

NASA’s InSight lander continues study of Mars, albeit mole is still misbehaving. Since detecting its first seismic event in April 2019, about 21 of the seismic events are expected to be Marsquake candidates. These events may represent geologic processes or meteorite impacts. The HP3 heat probe, or mole, briefly continued hammering down after experiencing issues in February, however, it unexpectedly ejected itself halfway out of the hole. This turn of events will set the HP3 mission back weeks if not months. Despite the difficulties, the InSight lander is still regarded as a success, and is providing excellent Martian science.

Crops successfully grown in lunar and Martian simulants. Nine out of the ten crops studied were able to grow in the simulants (spinach did not grow). Generally, the Earth control (normal potting soil) had the highest biomass production per tray, with Martian simulant lower and lunar simulant producing much less biomass. More research needs to be done, especially with actual regolith, but this shows promise for future food production in extraterrestrial locations. 10.1515/opag-2019-0051


Moon

NASA to send mission to study ice at the lunar south pole. Called the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, the golf cart sized rover will traverse the lunar south pole for about 100 days, mapping water as it goes. The rover will carry four instruments, including a 1 meter drill made by Honeybee Robotics. Although the exact landing location has not been announced, nor whether the rover will visit a permanently shadowed region, having in-situ exploration hardware on the Moon’s south pole will provide valuable data on the environment follow on ISRU missions can expect to encounter. Link.

SpaceX plans to land Starship on the Moon by 2022. Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, stated at the 70th International Astronautical Congress that SpaceX wants to deliver resources to the lunar surface with Starship before 2022. This would be in preparation for a follow on human landing by 2024. Although an aspiration time frame, SpaceX may very well beat NASA’s Artemis landing even with delays. This may be compounded by the Senate Appropriations Committee failing to fund Artemis due to concerns about the urgency of NASA’s 2024 goal. Regardless, this is fantastic news for ISRU because Starship reduces the strict mass restrictions architectures must follow with current launch capabilities. Link.

Lunar polar ice may originate from multiple sources. A recent study of crater ages at the Moon’s south pole indicates that the ice we see today can be classified into ancient ice and recent ice. Ancient ice in old craters makes up the majority of surface ice, which was likely trapped after meteorite impacts billions of years ago. Recent surface ice was identified in young craters, which suggests it was delivered through micrometeorite impacts or solar wind interactions with the lunar regolith. Similar to water regeneration on asteroids (above), the existence of water on bodies in our Solar System appears to be a common occurrence, with similar creation mechanisms. 10.1016/j.icarus.2019.113455

New efficient process for extracting oxygen from lunar regolith. The Moon’s regolith is a collection of pulverized fragments of crust that contains about 40% oxygen. This oxygen can be extracted by heating the regolith to certain temperatures. Traditional methods require temperatures of more than 1600C, however, a new extraction process (the FCC process) uses molten salt electrolysis that only requires temperatures of 950C to extract 96% of the oxygen in 50 hours and 75% in 15 hours. This technique holds promise to aiding oxygen production in equatorial regions where ice isn’t present. 10.1016/j.pss.2019.104748

Robotic spiders for lunar lava tube exploration. New space startup Spacebit announced their plans to launch four legged robotic rovers to explore the Moon’s lava tubes. Their planned demonstration mission will operate one rover to a lava tube in Lacus Mortis (45 deg N) for the duration of a lunar day, being delivered by an Astrobotic Peregrine lander. The legged rover provides an alternate approach for lava tube exploration than the two wheeled Axel rover or other methods. Spacebit’s proposed mission is based on providing scientific data about lunar lava tubes.