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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission went into orbit around near Earth asteroid 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 near Earth asteroids (NEA), so these results will aid future exploration missions.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has successfully landed Chang’e 4 on the far side of the Moon. This is the first time a human made spacecraft has landed on the far side. However, what exactly is the far side of the Moon and what do they expect to find there? In short, unique terrain that can answer fundamental questions about lunar and Solar System evolution.
As the dinosaurs figured out, the severity of asteroid impacts is Earth shattering. In an attempt to learn from their failure, NASA and ESA are collaborating to build and test planetary defense capabilities. The target is the Didymos binary asteroid system. NASA will impact the smaller object, Didymoon. ESA will observe the results. Together they will learn more about asteroids and deflection strategies.
On Jan 1, 2019, the NASA New Horizons spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule, a 31 km wide Kuiper belt object (KBO) that is the most distant object ever visited by a human spacecraft. By studying unaltered KBOs, we gain a better understanding of how certain near-Earth objects formed and evolved as they traveled into the inner Solar System. This insight allows us to design and build more effective missions that can eventually prospect and mine NEOs for valuable resources.
On September 21, 2018 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that MINERVA-II-1’s two rovers, Rover-1A and Rover-B, landed on asteroid Ryugu. This was the first time humans have landed a mobile exploration robot on an asteroid along with capturing images from an asteroid’s surface. The photographs taken by the rovers showed a beautiful scene of boulders, without visible regolith.