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Newly formed Deep Space Industries unveiled an ambitious plan on Tuesday to extract raw materials from nearby asteroids and turn it into fuel and spare parts for satellites.
It may sound like science fiction, but the company’s chief technology officer, John Mankins, who previously worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said there’s really nothing magical about it.
“The technology may not have been used in space for the exact purposes that we propose, but the fundamental technologies are really at hand,” Mankins said at a press conference at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, Calif., to announce the new venture.
Interestingly, another startup, Planetary Resources, rolled out a similar business plan in April. Though the two companies may end up vying for the same customers, they are taking different paths.
Planetary Resources plans to start off building, launching and operating small telescopes in Earth orbit to scout for potential mining targets. Deep Space Industries’ idea is to use inexpensive, off-the-shelf CubeSat-based spacecraft to visit select asteroids.
The six-month “Firefly” missions, each of which would cost about $20 million, would begin in 2015, said Deep Space chief executive David Gump told Discovery News.
Those would be followed a year later by slightly larger “Dragonfly” spacecraft capable of putting themselves into orbit around a target and extracting up to about 100 pounds of material to bring back to Earth.
Gump figures money for the venture will come from space agencies, including NASA and other research institutions, as well as from companies interested in advertising, sponsorships and marketing programs.
Ultimately, Deep Space wants to extract water and other volatile materials from huge chunks of asteroids brought back to Earth orbit. The materials would be used to make fuel for communications satellites, adding another $20 million to $25 million in value to each. Gump figures a commercial refueling service should be available by 2020.
Also of value are the asteroid’s metals, which could be used in 3D space printers to manufacture solar cells and other satellite components.
The company’s founders include engineer Stephen Covey, who has a patent application pending for what he calls a “Microgravity Foundry,” — a 3D printer that uses lasers to etch patterns in a nickel-charged gas. The process deposits the metal in precise patterns, similar to how Earth-based 3D printers use nickel powder to produce components.
There should be more than enough asteroids to go around. Recent surveys, initially launched to find asteroids with the potential to hit Earth, are adding about 1,000 targets a year to the list of nearby asteroids, the vast majority of which pose no threat.
Currently there’s about 9,500 known near-Earth asteroids, about 850 of which are bigger than 1 kilometer (.62 mile).
“They are the planet-busters. If they hit the Earth there is worldwide climate disruption. They’re the sorts of things that killed off the dinosaurs,” said mining consultant Mark Sonter, a Deep Space Industries science adviser.
About 2,900 of the known asteroids are bigger than about 300 meters (984 feet) and millions in the 10-meter to 20-meter (33- to 66-foot) diameter range.
“The number of near-Earth asteroids is going up all the time. It’s going up very fast. This represents the number of our potential targets for mining or for resource recovery,” Sonter said.
Call it the ultimate in high art: Using a well-timed laser, NASA scientists have beamed a picture of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, to a powerful spacecraft orbiting the moon, marking a first in laser communication.
The laser signal, fired from an installation in Maryland, beamed the Mona Lisa to the moon to be received 240,000 miles (384,400 km) away by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the moon since 2009. The Mona Lisa transmission, NASA scientists said, is a major advance in laser communication for interplanetary spacecraft.
“This is the first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances,” David Smith, a researcher working with the LRO’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter — which received the Mona Lisa message — said in a statement. “In the near future, this type of simple laser communication might serve as a backup for the radio communication that satellites use. In the more distance future, it may allow communication at higher data rates than present radio links can provide.”
The LRO spacecraft was the prime choice to test out the novel communication method because the spacecraft was already equipped with a laser receiver. While most spacecraft exploring the solar system today are tracked using radio signals, NASA is tracking LRO via lasers as well.
But the timing had to be just right.
NASA used its Next Generation Satellite Laser Ranging station at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to send the Mona Lisa signal to LRO. The team divided the famous da Vinci painting into sections measuring 150 by 200 pixels and then transmitted them via the pulsing of the laser to the orbiter at a data rate of about 300 bits per second.
Once the lunar orbiter received the image, it reconstructed the photo, corrected for distortions created as the laser signal zipped through Earth’s atmosphere, and then sent the image back to Earth using its normal form of communication: radio waves.
“This pathfinding achievement sets the stage for the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration,” Richard Vondrak, another researcher with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter said, “a high data rate laser-communication-demonstrations that will be a central feature of NASA’s next moon mission, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust environment Explorer.”
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is slated to launch toward the moon later this year and will focus on mapping the lunar atmosphere and environment.
Curiosity found widespread evidence for flowing water in the highly diverse, rocky scenery shown in this photo mosaic from the edge of Yellowknife Bay on Sol 157 (Jan 14, 2013). The rover will soon conduct 1st Martian rock drilling operation at flat, light toned rocks at the outcrop called “John Klein”, at center. ‘John Klein’ drill site and ‘Sheep Bed’ outcrop ledges to right of rover arm are filled with numerous mineral veins and spherical concretions which strongly suggest precipitation of minerals from liquid water. ‘Snake River’ rock formation is the linear chain of rocks protruding up from the Martian sand near rover wheel. Credit: NASA
The Curiosity rover hit the science “jackpot” and has discovered widespread further evidence of multiple episodes of liquid water flowing over ancient Mars billions of years ago when the planet was warmer and wetter, scientists announced. The watery evidence comes in the form of water bearing mineral veins, cross-bedded layering, nodules and spherical sedimentary concretions.
The photos are used by various groups to show that the Earth is being visited by aliens and that governments hide this information.
The photos were published in May 2011 on the website of the Johnson Space Center and clearly demonstrate an advanced spacecraft. The photos were eighteen years at the site of NASA until they were suddenly removed.
It is thus suggested that NASA actually admits the existence of extraterrestrial visitors to conceal. Others argue that these are images of satellites, possibly the Hubble.
Several websites get a quote of a former employee of NASA. Clark C. McClelland would have worked on several missions, including the Apollo Program, the International Space Station and space shuttle missions. He was at the Kennedy Space Center a 2.7 meter space creature have seen speaking with two NASA astronauts. However there is no evidence to show that the said missions McClelland actually worked.