TransAstra was one of two groups awarded the first ever NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase III grant. TransAstra will use the Phase III funds to advanced its first flight demonstration mission of the Mini Bee asteroid mining concept. The Mini Bee spacecraft will be about 250 kg in size, and will test the optical mining concept in a space environment using a synthetic asteroid launched from Earth. The CI-type asteroid simulant will be made by the Florida-based company Exolith Labs using leftover materials from Deep Space Industries before they shut down. Expected to launch in the early 2020s, this will be the first time water is extracted from material similar to asteroids while in space.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Surveying the surface of asteroids is challenging. Asteroids of interest are often millions of kilometers away from Earth, have milli-gravity, and have variable lighting and surface conditions. Yet surface information is essential for planning resource exploration missions to them. A recently proposed semi-inflatable robot operating in a swarm may excel in this environment.
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.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission went into orbit around Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) 101955 Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx mission is NASA's first sample return mission from an asteroid. The science obtained from in-situ observations and the returned sample will advance our understanding of asteroids by an order of magnitude. Very little is currently known about NEAs, so these results will aid future exploration missions.
TransAstra Corporation proposed a spacecraft able to deliver five-thousand-tons of water-ice to cislunar space per two-year mission. This is the largest amount of delivered water ice proposed from any active group. They call their system the Queen Bee. It is part of the Asteroid Provided In-Situ Supplies (APIS; Apis) architecture. Queen Bee is a large scale version of their asteroid mining spacecraft design.