The Space Resource Newsletter - June 2019

The Skylight lunar exploration mission was selected for the first ever NIAC Phase III grant of $2 million. Skylight proposes to rapidly survey and model lunar craters using small robotic rovers. Credit: William Whittaker, Carnegie Mellon University.

Welcome to The Space Resources monthly newsletter for June 2019. NASA space resources grants galore! 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.


Mini Bee optical mining demo mission wins NIAC Phase III award. One of two winners of the first ever Phase III NIAC awards, Joel Sercel was awarded a $2 million grant. The award follows a Phase II NIAC study report and will support maturation of the optical mining system intended for extracting water from asteroids. The work done as part of this award includes designing and constructing a flight demonstration system that will release, re-capture, and extract water from a small asteroid simulant. The system, called Mini Bee, is the smallest proposed system within TransAstra’s asteroid mining lineup.

Janus Reconnaissance Missions to Binary Asteroids selected by NASA for future small sat mission. With the goal to launch in 2022, the Janus mission will visit a binary asteroid system to study the formation and evolution of small asteroids. The award provides one year of funding to develop the design, ultimately ending with a preliminary design review (PDR). NASA may choose to continue to pursue this concept depending on that PDR.


Curiosity detects huge spike in Mars methane gas. The Curiosity rover detected the largest concentration of methane ever found on Mars, with a reading of 12 parts per billion. Follow-on experiments detected less than 1 part per billion, suggesting that this detection was another example of the methane spikes found previously. The source of the methane releases are not known, though background levels of methane have been found to rise and fall seasonally. As more is learned about the source of methane, the prevalence and possible utility of natural Mars methane will be better understood.


Solution needed for Lunar lander caused plume ejecta. As traffic and presence increases on the Moon, a solution must be found for ejecta due to launch and landing. A presentation at Space Resources Roundtable by Philip Metzger demonstrated that ejecta from a 1 ton lander, such as China’s Chang’e 4 (0.8 ton) travels over 20 km. His research found that regolith ejected by landing is equivalent to the landing mass to the 2.5 power. Since ejecta travels at near the speed of rocket exhaust gas, it effects the Moon globally and can reach orbit affecting satellites. Based on this, landing pads built for bases and mining locations must have protective berms. Ejecta can also be reflected back at the spacecraft from these berms, so unique design solutions are needed to solve the problem and prevent damages.

Skylight mission concept wins NASA NIAC Phase III award. The grant provides $2 million to William Whittaker at Carnegie Mellon for two years to continue design work completed during the prior NIAC Phase II study. The technologies developed in this award seek to enable rapid detailed lunar crater surveys. The data obtained would be high-resolution images that would be used to generate detailed 3D models. This crater mapping technology is invaluable for understanding and selecting lunar craters for lunar ice mining, or missions including humans or robots.

Lunar Trailblazer one of three concepts NASA selected for small sat development. The Lunar Trailblazer concepts will directly detect and map water on the lunar surface. The ultimate goals are to study how lunar ice forms, its abundance, and location. This information will guide how future space processing concepts are designed and implemented.

Solar System

NASA sending flying drone to Titan. Saturn’s largest moon Titan provides a unique opportunity for aerial robots due to its dense atmosphere and low gravity. While not focused on space resources, the technology being developed for this mission will expand the available systems future resource exploration missions can use.