Updates on open frontier of private space exploration

Private space launch of privately developed rocket. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.
Private space launch of privately developed rocket. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

I am fascinated by the wide open frontiers in so many areas of life. We’re at the point where private enterprises are taking the lead in space exploration.

Here are several fascinating articles I’ve read recently on legislation to legalize space mining, how to colonize Mars, thumbsats (which are smaller than cubesats), and competition for launching GPS satellites.

Asteriod mining

11/13 – Jurist – Senate approved the bill to legalize space mining – Bill would be huge step in providing a legal framework for mining asteroids. This would not allow for ownership of asteroids, but would give a clear title to anyone who mined resources and removed them from the asteroid.

This is a huge deal because there is a tremendous amount of metals and minerals on asteroids that would be invaluable for building things in space. In addition many asteroids have huge amounts of water which can be used not only for hydration but if you break it down can be used for rocket fuel.

11/10 – Planetary Resources – Planetary Resources Applauds US Congress in Recognizing Asteroid Resource Property Rights Bill passed the house in July, the Senate in November. It is waiting for the president’s signature.

Since Planetary Resources is focused on mining asteroids, they are thrilled with the bill. They compare it to the Homestead Act of 1862. They applaud the bill, saying it

recognizes the right of U.S. citizens to own asteroid resources they obtain as property and encourages the commercial exploration and recovery of resources from asteroids, free from harmful interference.

Colonizing Mars

10/24 – Wall Street Journal – What We’ll Eat, Drink, and Breathe on Mars – Colonization of Mars in no longer the realm of pure sci-fi. Stephen Petranek describes how it would be possible to grow some food on Mars, gather water from the abundant sources on the planet, and develop housing that provides protection from radiation. Further out, he describes how it might be possible to alter the climate to provide some radiation protection, more humidity, and less freezing temperatures.

Combine this with all the discussion about several private sector players and even NASA working to develop transport to and from Mars.

Very cool.

Mr. Petranek has a 96 page book on the topic. How We’ll Live on Mars. Only $2.99 in Kindle.  Fantastic book. I heartily recommend it.

Technology and private capacity is to the point where a survivable, sustainable colony on Mars is not purely make-believe. Daring explorers could make it happen.

Check out the book. I can see the path forward.

How far we have regressed

Depressing point in Mr. Petranek’s book is how severely NASA’s manned space effort has atrophied. After going to the moon, our government decided to focus on the Shuttle. The payoff from that effort was repeating over 100 times the same achievement, merely getting into orbit.

Now the US does not even have the ability to get into orbit. To launch any government rocket requires buying all the engines from Russia.

We have lost so much capability. NASA could not go to the moon again if it wanted to. NASA cannot even get an astronaut into orbit on its own. Getting Americans to the International Space Station requires renting a seat on a Russian launch. At fifty million per seat.

Recent developments in private space exploration provide hope not only for the basic capacity of manned flight but even interplanetary exploration. Very soon America may again have the capacity it did in 1961.

Thumbsats and GPS launches

10/28 – Space.com – Tiny “ThumbSats” Aim to Bring Space to All – Cubesats measuring only 10 cm on a side allow getting small experiments into space at a fraction of the cost of a full satellite. Next step in miniaturization is what a start-up company calls a ‘thumbsat’, which is designed to be only 48 mm x 48 mm x 32 mm. The host satellite will go into a low enough orbit that will reenter the atmosphere quickly and burn up so each thumbsat can be run for its entire short life by a small battery. The company will do most of the coordination and planning to get the satellite into orbit.

At that size the company could put 12 thumbsats inside one cubesat. Company estimates the cost would be $20,000 each.

11/17 – Wall street Journal – ULA Drops Out of Pentagon Rocket Contest – SpaceX and ULA were in a contest for the next round of military launches to lift the next generation of GPS satellites.  ULA dropped out because they can only get rockets off the ground if they use Russian built engines. They don’t have any engines they actually build. (see discussion above)  The Pentagon has either limited the use of Russian rockets or placed a moratorium on imports (I’m not sure which). As a result, ULA won’t have any rockets to lift the sats. That leaves SpaceX as only competitor.

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