Monday, October 23, 2017

EXTRA! EXTRA! Financial Times EXPOSES International Space Mining Plans

          By Brian Orlotti

The UK's Financial Times (FT) newspaper, generally known as a low-key conservative style publication focused on business and economic news, has included a four page supplement on space mining and commercial space activities as part of its Thursday, October 19th, 2017 print edition.

Leading with the October 19th, 2017 post, "Cosmic plans take giant leap from sci-fi to reality," FT kicked off its assessment of the efforts of a variety of public and private players in this fast developing, multi-trillion dollar industry. It's just a shame that there were no stories listing Canada's contributions in this area. Photo c/o Financial Times

Such media exposure highlights the continuing rise of the NewSpace industry. Here are a few of the stories:
If their "evil" side is in charge, they can impact Earth, causing death and destruction. Their "good" side is that they offer a treasure trove of scientific information as well as an enormous supply of raw materials for humanity. The post makes the point that to embrace the "Jekylls" and avoid the "Hydes," we’ll need to know the asteroids’ location and composition. 
Both government and private efforts are discussed. On the government side, NASA’s OSIRIS-REX and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 missions are mentioned, as well as the European Space Agency's (ESA) Asteroid Touring Nano-sat Fleet.
This nano-sat fleet, proposed to the 2017 European Planetary Society Congress (EPSC2017), which was held in Latvia from September 17th - 22nd, would launch 50 nano-satellites propelled by solar sails. Each nano-sat would use a 4cm telescope to image six asteroids from a distance of about 1,000 km. 
On the private sector side, the focus was on Mountain View CA based Deep Space Industries and Redmond WA based Planetary Resources.
Noted were both the Planetary Resources’ Arkyd-301 mission, a small group of spacecraft expected to launch in 2020 that will investigate asteroids believed to be rich in exploitable water, and the Deep Space Industries’ Prospector-1 spacecraft, which will intercept a near-Earth asteroid to determine its value as a source of space resources, and is currently scheduled to launch around the same time.
Remy and Lu argue that such a project is urgently needed to fill in the still-missing details on the millions of asteroids in our inner solar system. Such information will be crucial for both commercial mining efforts as well as in dealing with asteroid strikes on Earth like the 2013 impact of a 17m-wide asteroid near Chelyabinsk, Russia that released 30 times more energy than the Hiroshima bomb.
One firm discussed was Moffett Field, CA based Made in Space, a NASA spin-off company founded in Silicon Valley in 2010. In 2014, the company installed a 3d printer on the International Space Station (ISS) and used it to produce the first "additively" manufactured object in space. 
This was followed by another printer from the company, installed on the ISS and in operation since 2016. This printer has produced parts, tools, devices and multi-part assemblies. Later this year, Made in Space will also launch equipment that can print fibre-optic cable in space with greater quality than those made on Earth. 
Also noted was the ESA’s successful 3D-printing of a 1.5-tonne demonstration building block from simulated lunar soil in 2013. 
This 1.5 tonne, mostly hollow 3D printed building block, composed of "simulated Lunar regolith,," was produced as a demonstration of in-situ Lunar construction capabilities by the ESA in 2013. As outlined in the May 16th, 2016  The Conversation post, "Want to build a moon base? Easy. Just print it," entire houses "have now been 3D printed, including out of renewable resources such as clay and earth.." Photo c/o
Singled out in the article was Glasgow based Clyde Space, a cubsat maker founded in 2005 that worked with the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to design and build UKube-1 — Scotland’s first satellite, launched in 2014. 
The company is currently building twelve satellites for six missions, but by 2020 hopes to be producing constellations of 50-100 small satellites.
There were a number of other articles in the four page series of profiles on space mining and all are useful to view, such as the October 19th, 2017 FT post, "Private investors push down stratospheric cost of space start-ups," which focused on how the commercial opportunities of space are snowballing, and the October 19th, 2017 post, "Cosmic plans take giant leap from sci-fi to reality."

Taken together, the Financial Times’ supplement is a heartening sign that commercial space ventures have left the fringe and finally shed the "giggle factor" that plagued them for so long.

If only there were a few Canadian stories included with the supplement.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. And where oh where is Canada on this? Unknown. No response. DOA? No response in this sector equals a "Not interested" response on the global scale. This creates a barrier to Canadian commercial participation and damages Canadian industry.


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