The Space Resource Newsletter - May 2019
Welcome to The Space Resources monthly newsletter for May 2019. SpaceX deployed the first 60 Starlink satellites, water was identified in Itokawa asteroid samples, and announcements about NASA’s 2024 lunar ambitions. 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.
Water found in samples from S-type asteroid Itokawa. It was hypothesized that S-type (stony) asteroids contained low concentrations of water bearing minerals due to light curve data and studying similar minerals on Earth. However, two samples returned from the JAXA Hayabusa mission show high concentrations of water. These results are good signs for future asteroid processing missions that target similar S-type asteroids.
Carbonaceous chondrite impacted Costa Rica. A meteorite about 1 meter across broke apart above a small town in Costa Rica. This event is unique because the asteroid was a carbonaceous chondrite (C-type), which are easily contaminated by Earth’s environment. They are composed of clays, organic compounds, and water. Studying samples is difficult because they often get contaminated before being protected. However, samples from the Costa Rica impact were found and sent to labs before significant contamination occurred. No C-type asteroid sample has been returned to Earth yet, making C-type meteorite samples the best scientists have access to. Fresh samples are therefore highly sought after. It is important to study C-type material because they aid our understanding of Solar System formation and knowledge of how to process them for future resource utilization.
Large ice sheet identified a mile under Mars’ north pole. Using both the SHARAD and Gravity Field instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists found multiple ice layers beneath Mars’ north pole. The ice possibly survived by being covered with a protective layer of sand, preventing it from dissipating during warmer periods. If melted, the newly discovered ice would cover Mars in a layer of water at least 1.5 m (5 ft) deep if completely melted. This makes it one of the largest repositories of water on Mars. In addition to aiding the search for prior Martian life, the water ice may someday support future human missions.
Blue Origin announces Blue Moon lander. The proposed lunar lander will be capable of landing 3.6 tons to the Moon’s surface. The system will weigh 15 tons fully fueled, and will be powered by LH2/LOX. Blue Origin stated that Blue Moon will be deployable within NASA’s 2024 lunar goals.
NASA names lunar 2024 mission ‘Artemis’. An additional $1.6 billion was requested to allow NASA to achieve the 2024 deadline of landing astronauts on the Moon. The first mission, Artemis 1, is planned for 2020 with an uncrewed mission around the Moon. Astronauts will orbit the Moon on the second mission, Artemis 2, in 2022. If all goes to plan, astronauts will land on the Moon during the third mission, Artemis 3, in 2024.
Water formation possible via reaction between silver hydroxide and hydrogen. This process was identified in a recent paper, indicating that water can be formed in near-surface lunar regolith. If scalable, this process holds promise for expanding the sources of water on the Moon and allowing bases beyond the lunar poles. DOI: 10.1134/S0010952519020047
The Moon is actively producing moonquakes due to shrinking. Using seismic data from the Apollo missions, scientists were able to match up the seismic event epicenters to thrust faults seen in Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images. It is thought that the quakes are caused by both the Moon contracting as its interior cools and the tidal forces between the Earth and the Moon. Understanding moonquakes is very important for all future surface missions to the Moon because it will determine how robust lunar structures need to be.
SpaceX launches first 60 satellites of 12,000 strong Starlink constellation. All 60 satellites were launched on a single Falcon 9. In total, this launch was the heaviest that SpaceX has ever launched, totaling 18.5 tons. This was achievable due to advances in the Falcon 9 along with the low deployment orbit of 450 km (each satellite will boost itself to the operation orbit of 550 km). These 60 production design satellites join the two demonstration satellites that were launched last year. The production satellites are flat packable with a single solar array, and weigh about 500 pounds each. The Starlink constellation will require about 800 satellites before it can start commercial operation. Gwynne Shotwell has stated that all but four of the 60 satellites are performing as expected, with those four still maintaining communications. This is a strong start to an ambitious project.