Space settlement roundup – June.19.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to the establishment of human settlements in the solar system:

Lunar resources:

** An interview with Astrobotic CEO John Thornton about the recent $79M contract awarded to the company by NASA to send payloads to the Moon in 2021 aboard the company’s robotic lander/rover: ” Sunday Business Page: Astrobotic 6/9/2019 – CBS Pittsburgh

** A program about Japan’s ispace, which has raised around $100M for lunar robotic missions: This private company will mine the moon – Orbit 12.19

Julien Lamamy from i-space joins us to talk their plans to make lunar transportation cheaper and more accessible, and begin using lunar resources.

Mars resources:

** NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover includes device to derive oxygen from Martian CO2:

Crazy Engineering explores a technology demonstration riding aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover that’s straight out of science fiction novels like “The Martian.” It’s an oxygen generator called MOXIE, designed to convert carbon dioxide — which constitutes about 96% of the Martian atmosphere — into breathable oxygen.

More at Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) – NASA Mars

** Perchlorate in Martian soil also can supply oxygen: Device seeks to brew oxygen on Mars from dangerous salt –

John Coates, a microbiologist at UC Berkeley, has patented a mechanism he says can turn the perchlorate into oxygen fit for humans. Throughout the development process, he consulted NASA scientists who see Coates’ invention as a partial answer to the oxygen issue, but not the entire solution.

“What happens if astronauts are 10 miles from home (base) and they have a big problem and need oxygen? That is the niche that the perchlorate would fill,” said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. “When you are (on Mars) out in middle of nowhere, scooping up a bag of dirt to produce oxygen would be easy to do.”

** SpaceX needs partners for development of Mars resources for settlements: SpaceX beginning to tackle some of the big challenges for a Mars journey | Ars Technica

… those things beyond building the rocket are critical. One of the key elements needed to make for a more cost-effective Mars mission is in-situ resource utilization, in which crew members use resources available on Mars to reduce the complexity of the mission—essentially living off the land. This was first proposed in the Mars Direct plan outlined by Martin Marietta, as it allows for a much smaller and cheaper mission. The primary benefit accrues from making the propellant for the return journey to Earth on Mars itself, reducing the cost of the mission significantly.

This is one area in which SpaceX is especially keen to find partners. “There are a lot of important aspects in producing the propellant for this vehicle,” Wooster said. The company has plans to do this on its own if it has to, but he said SpaceX would gladly allow others to assist. SpaceX is also seeking partners for critical needs such as power, habitats, science, food storage, and more. Beginning in September 2018, the company began to convene conferences to solicit advice and support in these areas.

** Dr. Robert Zubrin presented Mars Direct 2.0 at the recent ISDC 2019. The key feature of the Mars Direct approach is to maximize utilization of Martian resources to reduce as much as possible the amount of mass that needs to be delivered from Earth to sustain the first base on the Red Planet.

Asteroid resources:

** A University of Adelaide group is developing a solvent extraction process for asteroid mining that would reduce the support resources needed and make such mining more feasible economically: Asteroid mining edges closer with solvent extraction – The Engineer

The technique relies upon continuous-flow chemistry, where tailored combinations of solvents are mixed with asteroid material to harvest the precious metals contained within. According to the researchers, the process is scalable and can operate in zero gravity and vacuum conditions. Its capabilities are currently being trialled in-orbit following a May 4 launch coordinated in partnership with US firm Space Tango.

** NASA funds Mini Bee spacecraft to demo technology for extraction of water and other volatiles from asteroids:

NIAC normally focuses on paper studies but this unusual Phase III grant of $2M, along with $1M in private investment, will fund a hardware mission in low earth orbit.

This flight demonstration mission concept proposes a method of asteroid resource harvesting called optical mining. Optical mining is an approach for excavating an asteroid and extracting water and other volatiles into an inflatable bag. Called Mini Bee, the mission concept aims to prove optical mining, in conjunction with other innovative spacecraft systems, can be used to obtain propellant in space. The proposed architecture includes resource prospecting, extraction and delivery.

Apis™ is a breakthrough mission and flight system architecture designed to revolutionize NASA’s human exploration of deep space and to enable massive space industrialization and human settlement. Apis™ is enabled by Public Private Partnership (PPP) and a series of inventions including the Optical Mining™ method of asteroid resource harvesting, the Omnivore™ solar thermal thruster, and a spacecraft architecture that uses highly concentrated sunlight as a far lighter, less expensive, and higher performing alternative to electric power in space.” Credits: Joel Sercel, TransAstra Corporation

The Mini Bee mission will be carried out in partnership with sister company Momentus, which is developing in-space tugs that use water as propellant:

Mini Bee will use the Momentus Vigoride orbital shuttle spacecraft bus and fly into orbit as a piggyback on an ESPA ring launch to low Earth orbit along with a man made miniature asteroid which will be released into orbit separately from the Mini Bee. Mini Bee will chase down and capture the synthetic asteroid and demonstrate asteroid mining and water extraction along with high thrust water based propulsion.

Commercial space habitats:

** Bigelow Aerospace‘s posts “First Base” lunar settlement architecture and describes plans for ISS commercial activity. On the BA website and on Twitter, the company has posted descriptions and images of a design for a lunar base developed with the company’s expandable habitat modules:

A technique for protecting the habitats from radiation was described on June 17th:

More on our “First Base”: How do we help protect astronauts from radiation on the surface of the moon? Placing regolith over their heads has long been considered necessary but previous methods have not been practical. On the lunar surface, the simpler the construction the better.

Astronauts fill durable tubes with regolith. The tubes (~20 m long) are laced over the habitat to build a desired thickness. There is a simple approach to this placement. This approach to radiation protection doesn’t require moving parts. The astronauts perform the tube loading.

Outside of the habitat, an enclosed rover outfitted with water or other tiles provides much needed shielding on the lunar surface. The two person enclosed rover and the solar field are deployed from the two warehouses of “First Base”.

** And Robert Bigelow announced that his company has contracted SpaceX for Crew Dragon flights to take customers to the ISS. (Bigelow is proposing to NASA to attach a habitat to the station.): Bigelow Space Operations Announces it has Reserved up to Four Dedicated SpaceX Launches to the International Space Station – Bigelow Aerospace

On Friday, June 7, 2019 Bigelow Space Operations (BSO) announced that last September of 2018 BSO paid substantial sums as deposits and reservation fees to secure up to four SpaceX launches to the International Space Station (ISS). These launches are dedicated flights each carrying up to four people for a duration of one to possibly two months on the ISS.

BSO is excited about NASA’s announcements last Friday. BSO has demonstrated its sincerity and commitment to moving forward on NASA’s commercialization plans for the ISS through the execution of last September’s launch contracts. BSO intends to thoroughly digest all of the information that was dispersed last week so that all opportunities and obligations to properly conduct the flights and activities of new astronauts to the ISS can be responsibly performed.

In these early times, the seat cost will be targeted at approximately $52,000,000 per person.

The next big question is when is this all going to happen? Once the SpaceX rocket and capsule are certified by NASA to fly people to the ISS, then this program can begin.

As you might imagine, as they say “the devil is in the details”, and there are many. But we are excited and optimistic that all of this can come together successfully, and BSO has skin in the game.

** The Island Zero Alpha design for a first generation rotating station uses what appear to be Bigelow type of modules. The design was proposed a few years ago in a British Interplanetary Society sponsored study. (Item via Rocketeers):

Island Zero Alpha is an original space habitat design from the study group on space settlement in the British Interplanetary Society. Assembled and stationed in low Earth orbit, it is 115 metres in radius. The ring of habitat modules rotates at 2 rpm and this produces a pseudo-gravity of around 0.5g on the floor of the modules. The idea behind Island Zero Alpha is to move up to larger habitats than the International Space Station and to learn more about the effects of pseudo-gravity on humans in space. The station is expected to have a crew of around fifteen to twenty.

Other space settlement topics:

** Latest on the SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise conference set for September 9-10 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington: SSI 50: First Conference Panel Lineup Announced | Space Studies Institute

SSI (Space Studies Institute) was founded by the late Princeton professor Gerard O’Neill to pursue development of technologies that enable large in-space habitats. Here is an overview of such colonies: O’Neill colonies: A decades-long dream for settling space |

** Japanese project develops system for making electronic circuits in space: Succeeded in Prototyping Integrated Circuits (ICs) with a Small-Volume Production System (Minimal Fab) – JAXA and AIST paving the pathway to minimal fab-produced ICs aboard spacecraft – JAXA

AIST [National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology ] has built a fully automatic Minimal Fab system, which enables a circuit designer to manufacture a semiconductor device on his own by operating a series of manufacturing equipment. Maneuvered by a JAXA circuit engineer, the new system has proven itself and produced the above ICs.

These prototyping and operational demonstration have opened the way to manufacturing electronic devices aboard spacecraft with a Minimal Fab process, which is expected to broaden the applications of the new process.

** Expanding the garden on the ISS: NASA Testing Method to Grow Bigger Plants in Space | NASA

In an effort to increase the ability to provide astronauts nutrients on long-duration missions as the agency plans to sustainably return to the Moon and move forward to Mars, the Veg-PONDS-02 experiment is currently underway aboard the International Space Station.

The present method of growing plants in space uses seed bags, referred to as pillows, that astronauts push water into with a syringe. Using this method makes it difficult to grow certain types of “pick and eat” crops beyond lettuce varieties. Crops like tomatoes use a large amount of water, and pillows don’t have enough holding capacity to support them.

As an alternative to the pillows, 12 passive orbital nutrient delivery system (PONDS) plant growth units are being put through their paces. The PONDS units are less expensive to produce, have more water holding capacity, provide a greater space for root growth and are a completely passive system—meaning PONDS can provide air and water to crops without extra power.

The 21-day experiment is a collaboration between NASA, Techshot, Inc., the Tupperware Brands Corporation, fluids experts at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and Mark Weislogel at Portland State University. As a U.S. National Laboratory, the space station provides commercial companies and government agencies with the ability to test the experiment in a microgravity environment.

** Disabilities on earth may be advantages in space: In a recent presentation to the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) Working Group, Sheri Wells-Jensen of Bowling Green State University discussed what is and isn’t a disability in space: “Preparing to Survive: the Case for Disabled Astronauts and Colonists”:

And in a Sci-Am blog posting, she discussed the example of a blind crew member on a space station: The Case for Disabled Astronauts – Scientific American Blog Network

After all, in a serious accident, the first thing to go might be the lights! This generally means that the first thing a sighted astronaut must do for security is ensure visual access to the environment. He hunts for a flashlight, and if emergency lighting comes on, his eyes take a moment to adjust. Meanwhile, the blind astronaut is already heading toward the source of the problem. In the fire aboard the Russian Mir space station, in 1997, the crew struggled as smoke obscured their view. The blind astronaut, while still affected by the lack of good air, would not be bothered by either dim lighting or occluding smoke. She would accurately direct the fire extinguisher at the source of heat and noise.

** Another debate on where to focus initial space settlement efforts was held at the National Space Society‘s ISDC 2019 meeting:

** ET mega-space settlements: The Space Show – Fri, 05/31/2019 –  Dr. Greg Matloff and C. Bangs “discussed their book, Stellar Engineering, terrestrial & possible alien megastructures & concepts for advanced civilizations outside our solar system”.


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