Monday, April 30, 2018

NASA Resource Prospector Cancellation "Disappointing" Says Deltion Innovations CEO Boucher

         By Chuck Black

The CEO of a small, Sudbury, ON based mining equipment design company, who has worked for the last decade on a series of funded contracts from both NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to develop a sampling drill for the proposed NASA Resource Prospector (RP) mission, is more than a little disappointed that the mission has just been cancelled.

A photo of the Deltion Innovations DESTIN drill attached to the bottom of an Artemis Jr Rover built several years ago by Kanata, ON based Neptec Design Group under contract to the CSA. As outlined on the Neptec web site, "the DESTIN drill is designed to drill into the lunar surface and collect samples of the soil (regolith) that can then be analyzed to determine the presence of water-bearing minerals or water ice." Photo c/o Neptec.

According to Deltion Innovations CEO Dale Boucher, "the cancellation of RP is disappointing at this juncture. It is my belief that government space agencies can best enable and encourage industrial capacity by helping to reduce risk and transfer knowledge and innovation to the private sector."

Of course, while the CSA is all about "science," outreach and partnering with others to get contracts to build their components, transferring knowledge and innovation to the private sector may be exactly what NASA and the US government are attempting to do...

As outlined in the April 28th, 2018 Space News post, "NASA emphasizes commercial lunar lander plans with Resource Prospector cancellation," the RP mission will be replaced with "a series" of robotic missions to the lunar surface which will include some, but certainly not all, of the tools developed initially for RP.

The rovers, the rockets and the rest of the components needed for those new missions will use commercially available technology sourced under a new NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. On April 27th, 2018, the NASA Office of Procurement released a draft request for proposals under the new program (solicitation number R18R0011R).

The CLPS program is expected to favour US based, private sector providers so there is no guarantee that the Deltion drill, known as the Drilling Exploration & Sample Technology Integrated (DESTIN) drill, will make the final cut and be chosen as part of the new program.

As outlined in the March 17th, 2015 Shackleton Energy press release, "US lunar mining company and Norwegian technology company to develop drilling and power solutions for operations on the Moon" there is at least one other US based company also in the running.

NASA will be holding a one day "Preproposal Conference for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) Acquisition," at NASA HQ in Washington DC on Tuesday, May 8th, 2018, to discuss the new program.

Not so long ago, Canadian's were competing to supply the complete chassis for the Resource Prospector mission (then known as RESOLVE), not just the components and tools. However, as outlined in the September 26th, 2016 post, "The REAL Reason Why Canada Won't Be Participating in the NASA Resolve Mission Anytime Soon, Probably!," funding for a production version of the proposed rover dried up in 2012 and Canada dropped out of the competition. As outlined in the October 20th, 2012 post, "Lots and Lots of Rovers Looking for Missions," it had become obvious to most everyone who didn't work at the CSA that planetary rovers used well understood technology and could be built cheaper and more effectively by the private sector. But the CSA has continued to actively, if quietly, fund Canadian rover research, according to the December 1st, 2014 post, "New CSA Rover Contracts Worth Over $3.28Mln CDN Uncovered" and the April 10th, 2017 post, "General Fusion, exactEarth's Missing (But Insured) Satellite, More CSA Rovers & ULA Drops Launch Costs." Graphic c/o Commercial Space Media.

In a series of e-mail exchanges with this blog, Boucher said:
Resource Prospector was intended to be a first mission that actually performed a subsurface prospecting activity. Prospecting is a necessary first step in any kind of resource extraction activity that interacts with the surface or subsurface of a planetary body. 
The effort for RP was to have been to try to determine the potential for mining water ice in the near surface areas of the south pole as a means to support long term missions to the moon and even human outposts. 
Deltion CEO Boucher. Photo c/o Deltion.
RP would have demonstrated the ability to evaluate the quality and quantity of water ice available for extraction and tied the results to orbital data in a way that would provide confidence to mission planners that a human mission on or near the moon could be sustained with a dramatically reduced set of supply missions from earth. 
The newly proposed Deep Space Gateway/ Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), will require the supply of water and oxygen from the moon in order to manage costs. RP was to be less of a science mission and more of a mining development mission.
Space robotics is an innovative niche for Canada. Combining space and mining is a natural fit for Canada (as per the 2nd volume of the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review). 
This combination would encourage innovation in terrestrial mining, a sector left out of the recent Innovation Supercluster Initiative.
Although Canada has thus far refused to participate in RP, and in space mining in general, citing both a lack of resources and no mandate from the federal government, the cancellation of this mission is a setback from which it will be difficult to recover. 
It is most likely the private sector will step forward to continue development of in-space mining. 
Canada, as a country, is not in the game, not on the team, not even on the cheer-leading squad. It is, at best, in the nose bleed section of the cheap seats not even paying attention to the game taking place in Luxembourg, the USA, UK, Australia…”
For more on this topic, it's worth checking out the April 10th, 2017 post, "Goldman Sachs is Bullish on Asteroid Mining."
Chuck Black.
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Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

1 comment:

  1. That last quote by Mr. Boucher, can't get anymore succinct than that.

    ReplyDelete

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