Monday, December 04, 2017

Colorado School of Mines Will Offer a Graduate Program in Space Mining in 2018

          By Brian Orlotti

The Colorado School of Mines (CSM), a renowned science and engineering institution, has announced it will launch a graduate program in Space Resources in 2018. The first of its kind, this interdisciplinary program will train the next generation of scientists and engineers in extracting the natural resources found in space in order to spur space exploration.

The program comes at a favourable time for space resource extraction, dovetailing with the rise of such firms as Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources.

As outlined in the November 30th, 2017 Wired post, "Want to Learn How to Mine in Space? There's a School for You," the new program would not only examine the technical aspects of space resource extraction but also its economic, policy and legal aspects. Instructors will be drawn from experts in academia, space agencies and the private sector. The first course, Space Resources Fundamentals, was first offered this fall as a pilot program.

CSM officials hope to follow it with a space systems engineering course, design project class and seminar series in spring 2018. Further out,  post-baccalaureate certificates, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees will be offered in fall 2018.

CSM is well suited for such a program, being a recognized centre of research in mining, geomechanics, remote sensing, metallurgy, robotics, advanced manufacturing, electrochemistry, resource economics and solar and nuclear energy.

The space resources program is centred around the concept of in situ resource utilization (ISRU), the practice of leveraging the resources (water, gases, minerals and metals) found on various astronomical objects (the Moon, Mars, asteroids, etc.) to enable/enhance the capabilities of space missions.

Examples of ISRU include:
  • Extraction of water from ice or soil in order to produce rocket fuel, drinking water, oxygen for breathable air, irrigation of crops as well as enabling various industrial processes.
  • Utilizing the silicon, aluminum, and glass found in lunar soil to manufacture solar cells, providing energy for spacecraft/surface bases and enabling the construction of solar power satellites.
  • Harnessing the metals found in asteroids to construct buildings, machinery and spacecraft, or (in the case of precious metals like gold & platinum) for export to Earth.
ISRU, essentially a "live off the land" approach, makes space exploration safer and more affordable by  eliminating the need to bring everything into space from Earth. Long rejected by NASA as too risky, ISRU has been embraced by the Newspace industry and, in recent years, by NASA itself. 

ISRU offers the promise of establishing an off-world transportation and industrial infrastructure that will enable the expansion of Earth’s economic sphere into the solar system. 

What railroads were to the 19th century, space-based fuel depots and asteroid mines will be to the 21st.
Brian Orlotti.

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

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