The Space Resource Newsletter - February 2019

Looking back on Opportunity rover’s tracks along the west rim of Endeavour Crater during the Summer of 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU.

Welcome to The Space Resources monthly newsletter for February 2019. Space resource activities this month have failed to disappoint! We’ve seen the first private lunar lander on approach to the Moon, a sample collection on an asteroid, and the Moon race gaining more steam. 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.


Hayabusa2 lands on Ryugu for the first sample collection. JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft performed a touch-and-go landing on near-Earth asteroid Ryugu to collect a small sample of surface regolith. This is the first of three sample collections Hayabusa2 will perform before its departure back to Earth in December 2019. Despite the surface of Ryugu containing coarser material than originally expected, Hayabusa2 appears to have successfully collected material. The exact amounts collected have not yet been announced.

New Horizons hit the bulls-eye at Ultima Thule. Due to exceptional execution, the New Horizons team revealed that the NASA New Horizon spacecraft was able to image Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule) very near its closest approach, recording the highest resolution images possible. Capturing these images was challenging because New Horizons flew by Ultima Thule at over 32,000 mph while being nearly 6.64 billion km (4.13 billion miles) from Earth. Each image’s expose time was only 0.025 seconds.

Novel semi-inflatable robot for asteroid exploration. Scientists from the University of Arizona presented a concept for using semi-inflatable robots operating in a swarm that would excel in exploring asteroids. A mothership would deploy multiple 1U CubeSat sized landers, each of which would inflate a 1 m inflatable sphere before landing and exploring the asteroid’s surface. Further work is ongoing.


The Opportunity rover has died. :’( After 15 years and 45 km (28 mi) of ground breaking science on Mars’ surface, NASA’s Opportunity rover has died. A large, multi-month long dust storm dimmed the Sun enough to prevent Opportunity’s solar panels from collecting enough energy to heat and power the rover. Opportunity was originally designed as a three month mission, yet far exceeded that. It even outlived its twin, Spirit, by over eight years. Opportunity has provided invaluable science about Mars, including detailed observations of the rocks, regolith, weather, and the general environment. One of Opportunity’s most lasting discoveries is providing evidence that Mars once had a wet and warm climate that could have potentially hosted life. Opportunity’s legacy lives on through its proven technology and archived observations.

NASA’s Insight lander ready to start digging. Insight has now placed its seismometer, seismometer wind and temperature shield, and heat flow probe on the Martian surface. The seismometer is most sensitive ever placed on Mars. It is already been able to measure the ground movement caused from nearby dust devils. Initial temperature measurements are also being received, which have ranged between a low of -95 C (-139 F) and a high of -5 C (23 F). Insight will soon start to hammer the heat flow probe down 5 m (16 ft) into the Martian surface, performing temperature experiments along the way.


Privately funded Beresheet launched to the Moon. For the first time ever, a non-governmental spacecraft is on its way to land on the Moon. The Israeli based non-profit SpaceIL had their lunar lander, Beresheet, launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 towards the Moon. Beresheet will require about two months and six orbits around Earth before it lands on the Moon. The first two orbital adjustment have already been successfully performed, although an unscheduled computer reset caused concern prior to the second maneuver. Beresheet is on schedule to land on April 12, 2019.

NASA wants to go to the Moon, fast. NASA announced plans of using the commercial industry to develop and launch missions to the Moon in a quick and sustainable fashion. This plan accelerates the Space Policy Directive that was signed in December 2017, which had similar objectives. Short term goals include landing the first payload onto the lunar surface by the end of 2019 or 2020. NASA also wants to return humans to the Moon by 2028 utilizing the Lunar Gateway, a three stage architecture.

China’s Chang’e 4 lander spotted by the LRO. The NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to spot both the Chang’e 4 lander and Yutu-2 rover within Von Kármán crater, albeit at just a few pixels across. The images captured give perspective to how large the craters surrounding Chang’e 4 are.


OneWeb launches first six broadband satellites. After a short delay, OneWeb was able to have their first six satellites launched into low-Earth orbit. These satellites are test units that OneWeb will use to evaluate the technology needed to provide global broadband coverage. OneWeb plans to start demo services in 2020.