Posts tagged science
“Don’t drink the water!” - Toxic Elements Found in Meteorites

A science team led by Alessondra Springmann found that heating up various types of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites released water as well as other volatile and toxic trace elements. Water is likely one of the very first resources that will be sourced from space for use in space. It is versatile for a variety of applications, including rocket propellant, consumption by astronauts, and bulk radiation shielding.

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Made In Space Interferometer

In-space manufacturing promises to be a key driver for developing space resource technologies. Building and assembling large structures in space allows the use of efficient designs that don’t require robust structures for the one time g-force requirements of launch. Made In Space has recently proposed a long-baseline interferometer that uses in-space manufacturing techniques for assembling opposing booms up to 50 m (164 ft) in length from a 24U small-sat chassis.

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Water on Itokawa and Processing It

Water has been directly observed from two samples returned from the S-type asteroid Itokawa. It was hypothesized that S-type asteroids contained low concentration water bearing minerals due to light curve data and studying similar minerals on Earth. However, the two Itokawa samples contained high concentrations of water at 698 and 988 parts per million weight, respectively. This holds great promise for asteroid processing targets if similar S-type asteroids have similar water concentrations.

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Lunar Polar Ice Everywhere, but Only on Surface

An international team of Chinese, American, and Russian scientists may have conducted the most extensive study of lunar Permanently Shadowed Region (PSR) ice yet performed. By comparing the reflections from flat surfaces in major PSRs to those of adjacent non-PSRs, they determined that the vast majority contain ice. However, the ice appears to be restricted to the uppermost surface.

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Lunar Lava Tube Exploration

Lava tubes on the Moon represent an enticing location for establishing lunar habitats. In addition to providing protection from radiation and meteorites, lunar lava tubes have a stable temperature range compared to surface conditions. These characteristics will allow the building of safe, yet economical habitats in lava tubes. However, we must first explore and categorize lava tubes before establishing the first settlements in them. One likely platform for enabling this exploration is via the Moon Diver mission and the tethered Axel rover.

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Surface Strength of PSRs

Although multiple landers and rovers have touched down on the Moon, no vehicle has visited the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) at the lunar poles. Water ice has been observed within some PSRs, and therefore represents an ideal target for future lunar missions. An important unknown to study before the first PSR mission is understanding the surface environment, including how much mass the PSR regolith can support. It is critical that rover wheels and landing pads don’t sink into the regolith. To study this, a recent analysis used boulder tracks to evaluate the bearing capacity of regolith in these areas.

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More Questions than Answers at Bennu

After less than three months in orbit, the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission has already made several discoveries about the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Bennu. Most promising for resource utilization is the presence of water-bearing (hydrated) materials. However, the environment is dangerous with particle ejections from unknown sources, many large boulders, and an ever accelerating rotation rate. Asteroid exploration and processing missions are in for a challenge!

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Impacting Lunar Polar Ice

The permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) at the lunar poles represent prime locations for finding high concentrations of water bearing material on the Moon. Even though PSRs have been remotely observed for the past few decades, much is still unknown about these areas. Key questions include the origin of the ice, how extensive it is, and how it changes over time. A recent model addresses some of these questions by predicting how long near-surface ice should exists before being sublimated away.

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Modeling Ice in Asteroids

A key appeal for processing water from asteroids as opposed to the Moon is the low delta-V required to get to and from them. However, this assumes that water rich asteroids come near Earth. Scientists from the Planetary Science Institute have recently developed an analytical model that can help estimate if some near-Earth objects (NEOs) contain water ice.

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Ryugu's Visitor

The quiet, everlasting vacuum has been a steady companion. After millions of years, a new visitor emerged from the darkness. Normally visitors come barreling in and cause a significant disturbance. Unusually, this visitor remained in a cautious orbit for a few months. Out of nowhere, this new companion approached with a strange appendage and fired a metal slug into the surface. Materials ejected were collected in a surgical fashion before the visitor retreated back to a safe distance. Quietness once again enveloped the scene.

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Surviving the Temperamental Moon

As indicated by the title of Robert Heinlein's 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Moon is a harsh environment to operate in. There is a scant atmosphere, abrasive dust, and extreme temperature ranges to deal with. Observed temperatures range from a blistering 127 C (260 F) in equatorial sunlight down to a frosty -238 C (-397 F) in the permanently shadowed regions of the poles. Designing missions to survive these conditions pushes current technology to its limits.

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The Future of Space Observations

The space industry is in the midst of a data revolution. The two key trends causing this include data proliferation and commercialization. This is interesting because both scientists and commercial players are participants in this change. The rise of petabyte size data releases and privatization of data will forever change how space observations are made and used.

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Martian Glaciers, Plentiful and Accessible

Mars is a treasure chest full of resources. Of all the available resources on Mars, water is the resource with the greatest utility. Aside from the possibility that it can contain extra-terrestrial life, it can be used for creating fuels and oxidizers, drinking water, agriculture, chemical processes, and more. The key question to resolve is: Where on Mars can we find large quantities of water that are easily accessible? Martian glaciers at mid-latitudes hold promise for being that ideal source.

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Finding an Asteroid to Visit

Processing water from near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) promises to be a key approach for delivering propellant to Earth orbit. Two proposed systems include TransAstra's Queen Bee spacecraft and Honeybee Robotics' WINE system. Before either of these missions can be launched, they will need to know where they are going and what to expect. Unfortunately you can't simply search for which NEA you should send a mission to. How will TransAstra and Honeybee Robotics decide where to go? Through lots of remote observations, a bit of data science, and talking with experts.

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Potential Equatorial Liquid Water on Mars, Causing Slope Streaks

Humans are fascinated with Mars, our closest Earth-like planet. With nearly 30 successful missions to Mars over the past five decades, one may assume that we have discovered all there is to know about Mars' surface. This is far from true as the mysterious surface slope streaks show. These features differ in size and shape, and seem to appear at random times and places. Scientists think they form via a wet or dry process, although it could be both. If a wet process causes them, this could have far reaching implications for finding extraterrestrial life on Mars and for future resource utilization missions.

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