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. 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.
OSIRIS-REx has survived its third month at NEA Bennu. Most promising for resource utilization is the identification of water-bearing (hydrated) materials on Bennu’s surface. It is expected that hydrated minerals from asteroids can be processed to extract water, which could be used for propellant or human consumption. However, the environment at Bennu is dangerous with particle ejections from unknown sources, many large boulders, and an ever accelerating rotation rate. These direct observations are instrumental in allowing future asteroid processing missions to be effectively designed for the environments they may encounter.
Asteroids are harder to destroy than previously thought. A new simulation shows that hypervelocity impacts of rocky asteroids is likely to cause fragmentation and not complete dispersal of the target asteroid. The study simulated the impact of a 1.21 km diameter basalt asteroid against a 25 km diameter basalt asteroid at 5 km/s. Instead of the target asteroid completely shattering, it retained a coherent core under the impact site. It is thought that the impact energy is dissipated by the compression of spaces within the rocky material. This discovery is important because it increases our understanding of the physics within the interior of rocky asteroids and how they can be processed. DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2018.12.032
Evidence of a deep groundwater system on Mars. Large deposits of groundwater likely exists at the Martian poles, however, a new hypothesis indicates that pressurized groundwater exists as deep as 750 m near equatorial regions. This pressurized groundwater appears to move upward along ground cracks, eventually breaching the surface at Recurrent Slope Linea sites. These sites appear on some crater walls, and are possibly caused by dried, short streams of water. Identifying a large deposit of equatorial groundwater near the surface would be a major aid for both human missions to Mars and the possibility of finding past or present extraterrestrial life on Mars. DOI: 10.1038/s41561-019-0327-5
NASA’s Mars lander InSight has a stuck drill. After only a few weeks of drilling, InSight’s HP3 probe is struck on an underground obstacle. The probe is being blocked by either a single rock or a layer of gravel. Although designed to burrow 5 m below the surface, the probe has only been able to hammer itself down roughly 30 cm (12 in). Mission planners have attempted to free the probe, but all attempts have failed so far. Teams at both NASA and the German Space Agency (DLR) are studying ways of freeing the probe. The HP3 probe’s mission is to allow scientists to study the Martian interior, which is important for designing future Martian regolith processing systems.
NASA aims to return US astronauts to the Moon by 2024. In a speech delivered on March 26, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA to return astronauts to the lunar south pole by 2024. This accelerates the previous deadline of 2028. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that NASA is still committed to the Space Launch System (SLS), however, Pence said that they are not committed to any one contractor, especially if they can’t meet the new aggressive objective. Despite the ambitious announcement, we have yet to see the funds that will enable this rapid schedule.
SpaceIL’s Beresheet lunar lander approaching the Moon. Beresheet is expected to enter lunar orbit on April 4 and land in the Mare Serenitatis region of the Moon on April 11. The flight to the Moon has already encountered a few issues, including a forced computer reboot before one of its planned orbital maneuvers. If successful, the Beresheet lander will be the first commercial vehicle ever landed on the Moon (or any non-terrestrial body).
UN talks failed to reach consensus in space disarmament. Continuing decades long failure to pass a treaty on space disarmament, 25 major space-faring powers failed to agree on a treaty after two weeks of negotiations. Russia and China back language that would limit specific military hardware in space, whereas the United States backs language focused on prohibiting specific aggressive conduct in space. Highlighting the need for space disarmament, ...
Indian destroyed a satellite in orbit, creating cloud of space debris. Launched on March 27, India tested a ground-based anti-satellite weapon against one of its satellites. The satellite was at an altitude of about 300 km, about 110 km lower than the ISS at 410 km. Most of the debris from this test will likely reenter Earth’s atmosphere within a few weeks, however, some pieces may take over a year before reentry. Needlessly creating space debris increases the risk of instigating a cascading Kessler syndrome.
OneWeb secured new funding of $1.25 billion. OneWeb is a global communications company that aims to launch a constellation of over 650 LEO satellites to provide global internet connectivity. The latest $1.25 billion in funding follows the success of OneWeb’s first launch success on February 27. OneWeb has now raised $3.4 billion that will be used to build, launch, and operate its proposed constellation.