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Great New Space Mining Book! June 3, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Policy, Space Ventures.
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New Space Mining Book

New Space Mining Book

Now I wish I would have paid more attention in chemistry & geology class. This new book by Dr. John Lewis is amazing. Most “popular” non-fiction is written by English majors who research a topic and never do it justice. Asteroid Mining 101 is so refreshing because it is written by someone who knows what he is talking about. Dr. Lewis has long been involved in concepts for tapping the riches of space.  With an academic background in space science and cosmochemistry (I had no idea that field even existed) he is eminently qualified to author a book on asteroid mining.

What I like about this book is that he clearly identifies the candidate asteroids by orbit, makeup and frequency they pass close to earth. This is a real science based book that is thorough and rigorous in the analysis of the subject. It covers the fascinating use of meteorites that have landed in various places and time on earth in categorizing the potential enormous wealth available for any particular type of asteroid since meteors are just chips off of asteroids.

Asteroid Mining 101 is true to its title with generous coverage of the actual mining process, what we can expect for mineral extraction, how it could be done and how it would be delivered for use back on earth. Overall this is a fascinating, if not technical, look at the practical aspects on mining asteroids in Near Earth Orbit (NEA). It is of interest that Dr. Lewis is Chief Scientist at Deep Space Industries, a real life space mining company, so he is not just a dreamer professor with nothing practical to bring to the table. I hope you enjoy a glimpse of a possible future for space that has tremendous implications back here on earth.

Sleeping Away the Future May 15, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Policy, The Solar System.
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Essay by Mark Flavin

Moon Image credit: NASA

Moon  –   Image credit: NASA

“I blame you for the moonlit sky
and the dream that died with the eagles’ flight.
I blame you for the moonlit nights when
I wonder why are the seas still dry?
Don’t blame this sleeping satellite.”

“Sleeping Satellite” written by John Robert Beck, Tasmin Archer and John Hughes.


When I originally heard this song which was sung so well by Tasmin Archer way back in ’92 I thought the lyrics were novel. Most pop songs sing about good, bad or ugly relationships yet here was a song with a clear, non-romantic message I could identify with. Now some forty-six years after the Eagle landed at Tranquility Base – that’s right forty-six years – I struggle with a culture that was so successful and amazing at landing and returning humans from the moon and then just walk away from something so profound. Are we that shallow? Are we so self-absorbed with making money, having “fun”, fighting wars – no sane person would ever fight – that something as big as departing the earth for another stellar object becomes trivial?

The state of American culture in the past almost fifty years since; “That’s one small step…” was uttered on the dry Sea of Tranquility is that it is still dry; we never went back. 21st century American has no purpose that transcends the daily grind of endless political argument and the death spiral of “can’t do” that seems to emanate from every crack. Wackos with an agenda for constraint and regression flourish while free thinking genius is punished with a wall of regulation and repression. We thrill at the pseudo-progress that allows us to “tweet” and “toot” on gadget phones that do nothing well, not even telephoning. So we sit in homes, at work, in a cafe, or (God forbid) in our moving cars, heads down punching our thumbs on an “i-something” device ignoring the real world, the universe and the people who inhabit it. The e-messiah of Cupertino has given us portable electronic pacifiers in their many forms so anyone anywhere can waste time burrowing deeper into self-absorption. Welcome to the quasi-modern era where advancement is measured in how our egos are titillated, not in measurable real progress.

What should a modern post-Apollo, post moon landing space era look like? After all it is not the sleeping satellites (our moons) fault; we are responsible for our destiny. There are several vital areas that have languished for decades waiting for leadership that does not seem to exist in the 21st century here and now in our country, or anywhere else on earth for that matter and they are as follows:

  • Innovative propulsion technology.
  • Making space craft livable and safe.
  • Space craft for beyond the low earth orbit (LEO) & the moon.
  • Enabling human exploration of our solar system.
  • Utilizing the near limitless riches of the asteroids.

Propulsion Technology – Since the 1950’s there has been zero progress on any propulsion technology beyond conventional liquid or solid rocket engines. Why is this so? Big aerospace has a vested interest in keeping their research and development to as little as possible while harvesting profit from technology developed for the early and now ancient missile programs. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) which should be called the United Leach Alliance is a monopoly consisting of Boeing Company and the Lockheed Martin Corporation has become the money sucker firmly attached like a parasite to government funded space launches. Based on the Atlas (December 1957 first launch) and the Titan (December 1958 first launch) rockets they have “evolved” the cryogenic chemical rocket for almost sixty years. Imagine your car with an engine and chassis from 1957. Would you be reaching for the stars, or driving on two lane highways desperately looking for the next gas station?

The efforts of Space X and others are significant however, they only provide what the government wants; more chemical cryogenic rockets to deliver payloads to LEO or geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO). They have impacted the price to orbit but not significant enough to make it affordable to anyone but a government or a large corporation.

It is not that there are no alternatives, it’s just that the government, and large corporations are risk averse. Ideas bounce around academia like the ALICE program flown in a scale rocket at Purdue University that would create rocket fuel from nano-particles of aluminum (very cheap) and water (free) but these inventive and imaginative propulsion technologies languish because they are not conventional cryogenic liquid rockets.

Propulsion Technology Goal: Develop a propulsion technology that would reduce the current launch cost per pound of ~ $4K-$13K per pound for LEO to around one tenth of the average or <$100 per pound.

Impossible, the critics scream, but not so fast. It is all about smashing the paradigm that space flight needs to be expensive. Real engineers aren’t intimidated by a challenge, just read about the work done on the Apollo program. The challenge was to the moon and back in 10 years, they did it in 8. (Move away from that i-phone and put your thumbs down and your mind in gear.)

Serious consideration of making space livable and safe. – It is frustrating watching NASA pursue the same old path; micro gravity in LEO or zero g coasting on a long duration space mission. This “head in the sand” intransigence is completely irresponsible especially considering the current mission plan has a travel time of ~ 8 months to Mars. Really, 8 months floating in space, then 3 g descent onto the surface with 0.4g earth gravity. The rubber legged astronauts will not be in very good physiological shape for doing much exploring for a while once they get there.

Then there is the issue of radiation and its debilitating effects to the crew. No real plans to do anything serious to mitigate something as lethal as ionizing radiation after leaving the earths protective magnetic field other that a half-hearted study with mice – which was a real eye opener. Imagine getting to Mars and having seriously degraded your mental acuity right when you need clear thinking the most.

Space Habitat for Humans – A safe habitat that provides astronauts, visitors and travelers with a reasonable portion of earths gravity & equivalent radiation protection of LEO.

Just saying artificial gravity can send a NASA space bureaucrat into orbit. “too expensive”, “too difficult” , “too complex”, and so was going to the moon in 1961. As far as radiation protection, what person, other than a criminal, would send a volunteer crew on a mission they know would severely impact the crews health and reduce their mortality and quality of life upon return. We desperately need the technology developed that will put a space structure at one of the Lagrange points or elsewhere to confirm our ability to live in space for long periods or permanently without debilitating consequences. It is interesting to note the Mark Benson et al have a concept that addresses both of these concerns in a very comprehensive paper published through the AIAA (ref. document AIAA 2011-7138).

Space travel beyond the low earth orbit (LEO) & the moon. – We have been “Space Shuttled” or should it be “Space Scuttled” which limited our access to deep space from 1980 until the “space truck” was retired in 2011. All that wasted time ferrying back & forth to LEO. The enormous waste of a program that never should have been our sole access to space. Oh sure we have the ISS, (Ineffective Space Station) or I$$. Between those two programs the NASA budget was squandered for thirty years, billions of dollars that left us with no heavy lift capability once we abandoned the Saturn rocket. (It is an interesting footnote that there are two un-flown fully space qualified Saturn V launchers sitting as gate mascots at NASA facilities. We can’t even find the plans they were built with!) Now, finally NASA is working on a heavy lifter, the Space Launch System (SLS) that the congress forced a reticent NASA (kicking and fussing) to build. As a culture we can do much better that this.

Solar System Spacecraft for Humans – Develop a multi-mission manned space craft capable of operating for extended periods beyond the earth – moon system.

Not a glorified “Orion” capsule with kluged appendages and no artificial gravity. A real multi-mission system was eloquently described by Mark Holoman and Edward Henderson of NASA in the form of the Nautilus – X concept. This program concept brought together exquisitely clear thinking (for NASA) and defines a craft which could be used for solar system exploration. This type of craft would be greatly enhanced by advancements of in space propulsion technology like the functional Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) which would allow a major reduction in transit time within the solar system. We will have heavy lifter with the SLS, now let’s do something with it.

A plan for human exploration of our solar system. – It’s out there, let’s go explore it, and I don’t mean with little robot “explorers”. The space program was hijacked by activist “scientists” with an agenda of proving life on earth was not unique by finding microbial life somewhere that is not earth. Who really cares? Finding microbes has never driven a culture to explore any new vista anywhere, yet for years we have heard the tribal chant of “find the water, find life”. This absurd unscientific premise has caused us to waste tens of billions on landers and orbiters desperately trying to find microbial life on Mars. There is no scientific data to support the premise that where there is non-teresterial water there is life. It is just like saying: “My fridge has beer therefore any fridge I find will have beer in it.” It is called a logical fallacy, but we trudge on decade after decade, spending wildly, hoping, praying that we will find microbial life somewhere, anywhere. It is much more sensible to send humans to explore and if they find life, great, but at least we will have the satisfaction of seeing humans kicking up a little red dust on Mars in the process. Human exploration is something it doesn’t take a microscope to see, and it inspires those of us who don’t get to space travel to not only dream a little but put tax dollars on something with which we can identify. Robots are fine for where we can’t go because of the environment, like Venus, but if it is a hard surface planet we can stand on or moon or asteroid send people, we can relate to that, support that, pay for that.

A National Mandate for Human Exploration of our Solar System. Just as Martin Luther started the Reformation by publishing his “95 Thesis” so there is a need to attack the orthodoxy of the space bureaucracy with a fresh viewpoint that upsets the status quo.

Year after year those who yearn for a plan of human exploration of space are frustrated with an unresponsive sluggish post Apollo agency who has lost their way with no leadership or concise action plan that spans the decades ahead. Their charter had become focused on self-absorbed programs of earth research, atmospheric research, physics research, technology research, systems research (do you see a trend) with no tangible goal. It has become one mega science project for people who have never worked a day outside of academia and who build their little silos in research of things, which to a large part, have nothing to do with aeronautics or space (the “AS” in NASA). Churning out reports, crunching numbers on super-computers, holding symposiums and trying to get kids interested in science. Why? So they can grow up and waste there lives doing meaningless research? It is enough! It is time to eliminate the bureaucrats, administrators and activist scientists, clean out the Luddites and make a sensible plan for humans to explore the solar system; all of it, not just low earth orbit.

Clearly defined plans for utilizing the near limitless riches of the asteroids. – It is unimaginable what wealth is present in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter and even closer in the host of near earth objects (NEO) that skirt our planets orbit. Nickel, cobalt and more valuable metals such as gold, platinum and rhodium enough to provide resources for a thriving earth for millennia. This is not something that is unobtainable but it is within current technology to explore and recover. Dr. John S. Lewis makes the case for why this is both feasible and necessary in the two books he has written on the subject. It is time we though about our future before our national competitors do.

The National Mandate of Mineral Recovery from NEO. – This is not science fiction, it is fact and it is the kind of thing that can make or break a nation’s future.

While the private sector has the desire to use the NEO resource to make money it is the charter of the national government to clear the way for this kind of enterprise. Just as the government facilitated the expansion of the railroads in the 19th century with generous grants of land so it is in the best interest of America to have a solid plan to help pave the way to extract minerals from space in the 21st century. Without such a plan we will be a spectator while other nations or federations move to capitalize on the new space wealth. There are few times in the history of a nation when it stands at a clearly defined cross roads. The American Civil War, The Industrial Revolution, World War II, The Space Race. In each instance to fail would have meant a future none of us would enjoy.

What is ahead for us individually and for our nation is clear. We have a reasonable expectation to succeed in whatever path our collective will chooses. History has shown us to be a nation of resourceful free thinkers. Self-doubt and self-absorption diffuse the energy of a powerful and capable country and allow us to settle for second place when the blue ribbon is there for the taking. Space is not just an imaginary place where science fiction happens it is a real resource for us to explore and thrill to its wonders and prosper in its riches. If we have the heart to wake up and chart a course we will flourish by purposeful actions or we can choose inaction and by default to sleep away the future.

“And when we shoot for the stars
What a giant step;
Have we got what it takes
To carry the weight of this concept
Or pass it by?
Like a shot in the dark
Miss the mark with a sense of adventure.”

Lyrics to “Sleeping Satellite” written by John Robert Beck, Tasmin Archer and John Hughes.

essay copyright by Mark Flavin 2015

I’m Back + Planetary Resources May 8, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Ventures, Technology.
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ARKYD Spacecraft

ARKYD 3 Spacecraft Photo Credit: Planetary Resources


I took a long hiatus from my blog but I am back. Being distracted by running a business has kept me from what I love, space, but no longer! I will again begin to add content to share with other space enthusiasts.

Speaking of space Planetary Resources is very close to releasing there first prospecting telescope called Arkyd 3 from the ISS in July of this year. The instrument was lofted into orbit aboard the most resent SpaceX Dragon launch to the ISS. The mission of the Arkyd 3 is a technology demonstrator to proof the spacecraft and systems necessary to orbit other craft with the ultimate mission of identifying near earth objects (NEO) suitable for capture and mining.

Planetary Resources has a very ambitious goal of ultimately mining asteroids. They are taking a very measured approach to this by first identifying a list of candidate asteroids within reasonable range of earth. Once the database of objects is complete they will go to the next phase of mission planning along with their partners to begin actual mining. Their partners are heavyweights like Larry Page (Google), Eric Schmidt. (Google), Sir Richard Branson (Virgin everything), Ross Perot Jr. and a bunch of others that have the resources to move the venture from proof of concept to reality.

Keep you eye on this company. They have the potential to not just talk space but do space in a big way. It is what we have needed for a long, long time; entrepreneurs with vision that can literally reach for the stars.

Asteroid mining has arrived! April 24, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in Space Ventures.
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Image credit: Planetary Resources

This is the most exciting space news in decades! Start-up firm Planetary Resources announce today that is was establishing a business to mine asteroids in space. They are backed by a powerful collection of thinkers and billionaires to pull it off including Larry Page (Google founder), Dr. Eric Schmidt,  Ross Perot Jr. , Dr.Charles Simonyi and James Cameron are among those participating in the venture.

Their first effort will be to orbit a telescope capable of  detecting candidate  asteroids which are close to Earth  for mining.  Once identified they ” …plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals.”  What a milestone this is in placing the future of space exploration and utilization into the hands of practical people, not NASA scientists bent on finding microbial life under some rock.

A great deal of work is yet to be done but this is clearly some of the best news imaginable regarding the opening up space beyond government contrived waste & folly.