The Space Resource Newsletter - July 2019

The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 CubeSat successfully deployed its solar sail, raising its apogee by 2 km. This image shows the mylar solar sail with Baja California and Mexico in the background. Credit: The Planetary Society.

Welcome to The Space Resources monthly newsletter for July 2019. With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 behind us now, it appears that the Artemis mission is gaining steam and may very well join Chandryaan-2 on the surface of the Moon soon (we hope!). 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.


JAXA’s Hayabusa2 makes second touchdown on asteroid Ryugu. Applause and cheers broke out after the perfect touchdown collected subsurface samples from Ryugu, which is about 300 million km from Earth. The sample area was within the impact zone exposed after Hayabusa2 fired an impactor into Ryugu in April. This is the first time subsurface asteroid samples have been collected, and will shed light on the interior of asteroids.

Kilometer sized asteroid found with shortest orbital period. The asteroid, labeled 2019 LF6, is an Atira asteroid, which have orbits within that of Earth’s. 2019 LF6 was found by the Zwicky Transient Facility’s Twilight campaign. The campaign is aimed at finding Atira asteroids that can only be detected from Earth shortly before sunrise and shortly after sunset. Detecting this kilometer sized asteroid is a reminder that many more asteroids remain undetected near Earth’s orbit.

Near-Earth asteroid 2019 OK, sized between 57 and 130 meters wide, swung by within 73,000 km from Earth on July 25th. The asteroid was only detected by astronomers days prior, with announcement of the pass coming just hours prior to the event. At three to seven times as large as the asteroid that caused the famous Chelyabinsk event in Russia, the asteroid had the potential to cause large scale damage if it struck Earth. The short term notice of this event is a reminder of the lacking state of near-Earth asteroid detection and tracking, and the need to accelerate the proving of technologies for dealing with imminently impacting asteroids when they are found.

New algorithms speeds up the modeling of asteroid shape and movements. By updating the 1990s based SHAPE asteroid modeling algorithm to use modern GPUs, scientists are able to realize a 2 to 20 times speedup in calculation time. This new algorithm is a timely advancement for the accelerating asteroid detection count, especially with next-gen telescopes coming online soon.


Silica aerogel may be key insulation for Martian bases. Just an inch (2.5 cm) of silica aerogel has the potential to make certain areas of Mars’ surface habitable despite cold temperatures and radiation. Aerogel is a synthetic gel-like material that contains 97% air, enabling it to act as a great insulator and allowing high light transmissions. Aerogel’s unique properties would enable large areas to be protected with a minimal protective structure. The team is planning to test an aerogel structure in extreme terrestrial environments.


50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. Celebrations around the world throughout July marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first human landing on the Moon. This observance started with the July 16th launch anniversary, and culminated with the July 24 return landing anniversary. While events will continue to look back to this important achievement throughout the year, the world has now seen 50 years pass by since that first human visit to another world.

India launched Chandrayaan-2 for upcoming Moon landing. After years of delay, India beautifully launched its Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon. The spacecraft is expected to orbit the Moon by September, then deploy a lander and rover to the lunar surface. There are a total of eight instrument payloads on the mission. The orbiter is designed to operate for a year, with the lander and rover expected to last just 14 Earth days (1 lunar day). The rover is expected to traverse up to 500 meters during that time. If landed, India will become the fourth country to have successfully landed on the Moon!

NASA selected 11 companies to lead feasibility studies and develop prototypes for Artemis. SpaceX received two agreements, including one focused on in-space propellant transfers, and another on landing large vehicles on the Moon and how rocket plumes interact with lunar regolith. Blue Origin received three agreements, including one for lunar landing guidance and navigation, one for lander fuel cells, and one for lander engine nozzle materials. Lockheed Martin received an agreement to study autonomous in-space plant growth systems. These agreements make Artemis feel closer than ever!

More water may exist on the Moon than expected. Using crater altimeter data from Mercury, scientists propose that the Moon’s permanently shadowed craters contain about double the amount of water proposed by the LCROSS results. This study compared the difference between a hypothetically ice-less crater with actual altimeter observations. Interestingly, this model shows a sizable difference, indicating that up to 100 million metric tons of ice may exist within the Moon’s craters.

ESA identifies demand for satellites around Moon. ESA announced that it is currently assessing a commercial partnership for a lunar communications and navigation infrastructure which would serve an enabling role for future research and commercial ventures on the Moon. In addition, ESA announced it is currently running several studies with industry partners to determine how lunar communications and navigation infrastructure could best be established to benefit lunar exploration and utilization.


Lightsail 2 proves solar sail propulsion viable in Earth orbit. The Planetary Society’s 3U CubeSat successfully deployed and operated its 32 square meter solar sail in low Earth orbit. During a four day period, the CubeSat was able to raise its apogee by about two kilometers. This is only the second spacecraft to have deployed a solar sail. Solar sails hold great potential for aiding solar system exploration missions.

Improving cybersecurity in space. Using a Raspberry Pi Zero, a $35 computer, the ESA CryptIC experiment on the ISS aims to test approaches for secure communication between Earth and spacecraft using non-radiation hardened systems. The radiation environment of space can cause bit-flips in computer memory, corrupting systems unless precautions are taken. Bit-flips are a risk for secure communications because they can corrupt security keys. This research is critical for building secure orbital infrastructure using commercial hardware. As always, security through obscurity is no excuse for weak systems!

Innovative research studies how microbes could be used to mine in space. A July 25th launch to the ISS sent 18 experiments to test the growth of three different types of bacteria on basalt in bioreactors. One third of the reactors will be kept in microgravity, one third in centrifuge simulated Mars gravity, and one third in centrifuge simulated Earth gravity. The experiments will last a few weeks before samples are returned to Earth for study. Observations will determine how capable each bacteria species is at extracting minerals from the basalt under various levels of gravity, and what biofilms and membranes are formed in the process.