WASHINGTON: The US space agency Nasa awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday to collect lunar samples for US$1 to $15,000, rock-bottom prices that are intended to set a precedent for future exploitation of space resources by the private sector.
“I think it’s kind of amazing that we can buy lunar regolith from four companies for a total of $25,001,” said Phil McAlister, director of Nasa’s Commercial Spaceflight Division.
The contracts are with Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado for $1; ispace Japan of Tokyo for $5,000; ispace Europe of Luxembourg for $5,000; and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California for $15,000.
The companies plan to carry out the collection during already scheduled unmanned missions to the Moon in 2022 and 2023.
The firms are to collect a small amount of lunar soil known as regolith from the Moon and to provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material.
Ownership of the lunar soil will then be transferred to NASA and it will become the “sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.”
Under the Artemis program, Nasa plans to land a man and a woman on the Moon by 2024 and lay the groundwork for sustainable exploration and an eventual mission to Mars.
“The precedent is a very important part of what we’re doing today,” said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.
“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract, can take these resources but Nasa can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA’s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon,” Gold said.
“We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel,” he said. “Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries.”
Any lessons learned on the Moon would be crucial to an eventual mission to Mars.
“Human mission to Mars will be even more demanding and challenging than our lunar operations, which is why it’s so critical to learn from our experiences on the Moon and apply those lessons to Mars,” Gold said.
“We want to demonstrate explicitly that you can extract, you can utilize resources, and that we will be conducting those activities in full compliance with the Outer Space Treaty,” he said. “That’s the precedent that’s important. It’s important for America to lead, not just in technology, but in policy.”
The United States is seeking to establish a precedent because there is currently no international consensus on property rights in space and China and Russia have not reached an understanding with the United States on the subject.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is vague but it deems outer space to be “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
Building Earth's largest telescope on the far side of the moon – CBC.ca
NASA engineers are studying the feasibility of building a massive, kilometre-wide radio telescope on the moon that would dwarf anything we could build on Earth.
The telescope, which would be constructed by robots, would take the form of a huge, wire-mesh antenna in a dish shape that would hang suspended in a three-kilometre-wide crater on the far side of the moon.
The Lunar Crater Radio Telescope would provide a unique perspective on the early universe, though it likely won’t be built for decades, according to NASA robotics engineer Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, who is leading the project.
“We all want to know what happened. How did the universe evolve? What happened after the Big Bang?” Bandyopadhyay told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald.
In the 14 billion years since that event, the light waves from that era have been stretched out from tiny fractions of a millimetre to more than 10 metres as the universe expanded. They’re now extremely long radio waves, and those can’t be seen on Earth “because the ionosphere absorbs it,” said Bandyopadhyay.
“So we want to go somewhere away from [Earth] so that we can get a picture of the Big Bang and evolution of the universe.”
Telescope size presents challenges
The problem, however, is that in order to capture those wavelengths, not only does this telescope need to be on the moon, it needs to be very large, which makes it hard to build.
There are giant radio telescopes on Earth, which observe shorter radio wavelengths that do penetrate the atmosphere. The 300-metre-wide Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico — recently demolished in a catastrophic accident — or the 500-metre-wide FAST telescope in China represent significant engineering challenges.
Standalone, self-supporting, dish-shaped radio telescopes can only get to a certain size, based on the strength of the materials they’re made from and the need to resist wind loads. To avoid these issues, the largest radio telescopes are built into natural features in the terrain. Arecibo and FAST, for example, were built in natural, dish-shaped sinkholes.
Building such a telescope on the moon is, in one sense, easier. The lower gravity on the moon means a larger structure can be built with lighter materials. No atmosphere means no windstorms or other earthly environmental risks, though there are challenges from the moon’s harsh temperatures.
According to Bandyopadhyay, the moon also has no shortage of appropriately shaped terrain structures in the form of ubiquitous impact craters.
“These craters seem like natural places to put this dish-shaped telescope because the crater also looks like a bowl.”
To find a crater candidate, Bandyopadhyay and his team combed over detailed pictures taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and discovered more than 80,000 suitable craters on the far side of the moon.
Origami-inspired transport and construction
While the location would provide advantages, there are unique and significant challenges to building on the moon, in particular the harsh working conditions and the difficulty of transporting materials.
The team studied a range of scenarios for how a telescope might be constructed and transported to the moon. The one they have arrived at is inspired by Japanese paper folding, said Bandyopadhyay.
“Origami is the art of folding paper into smaller and more interesting designs. But in space, origami is extensively used to take these large structures, like a large dish of one kilometre, and we can literally fold it multiple times and make it into a pretty small structure.”
The antenna would be built on Earth in the form of a large, but extremely lightweight net-like structure made of conductive aluminum wire. It would be carefully folded into a package that would fit inside the nose cone of a large rocket, possibly the Space Launch System that NASA is currently developing.
Once launched, the antenna would be carried to the moon and land on the floor of the crater into which it would be installed. Then it would need to be deployed.
“We will have these robots that will go down … to the lander and then pull lift wires that will connect to the lander sitting at the crater floor,” Bandyopadhyay said.
These lift wires would be anchored on the crater rim and as they are winched up, the antenna would unfold and deploy. Ultimately the net-like antenna would be suspended over the crater floor, looking a little like a dish-shaped spider web.
The tension in the wires would be adjusted to result in the appropriate dish shape to receive radio signals from space and reflect them to a receiver.
All of this technology (the launch rocket possibly excepted) is available today, said Bandyopadhyay.
The robots, for example, are currently being tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“These robots are called DuAxel, and they are actively being built at JPL for over a decade now. And these robots have the speciality that they can go down almost steep terrain like just cliff faces.”
For now, this is an early stage engineering feasibility study, rather than a fully developed mission proposal, but Bandyopadhyay suggests it would certainly be expensive and would be a very high-profile endeavour for NASA.
“Cost is a big uncertainty right now. Right now, all I can say is we think this will be a flagship-class mission.”
Given that, it’s likely decades away, at least.
“Space is hard,” said Bandyopadhyay. “I would be surprised if I could see this launched and deployed before I retired, and I’m a young scientist.”
Written and produced by Jim Lebans
SpaceX's first 'rideshare' mission will launch a record number of satellites – Engadget
The SpaceX Transporter-1 mission set to launch today will put 133 commercial and government spacecraft, as well as 10 more Starlink satellites, in orbit. SpaceX says that’s “the most spacecraft ever deployed on a single mission” — the previous record holder, an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, ferried only 104 satellites to space. In addition to having a record-breaking payload, Transporter-1 is also the first dedicated launch under the SmallSat Rideshare Program SpaceX announced back in 2019.
Launching many small satellites for a wide range of customers tomorrow. Excited about offering low-cost access to orbit for small companies! https://t.co/NrXmBML747
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 22, 2021
The SmallSat program offers companies and government agencies an affordable way to get their CubeSats, microsats and other small spacecraft to orbit. Its prices start at $2.5 million for payloads up to 150 kg (330 lbs). The program’s customers typically just hitch a ride on other Falcon 9 launches, and this is the first time they’re the main point of a mission. As for the Starlink satellites aboard the flight, they’ll be the first in the constellation to deploy to a polar orbit.
On Twitter, SpaceX chief Elon Musk said Transporter-1 “is getting even more scrutiny than a Starlink flight” because so many companies are depending on it to go off without a hitch.
Given so many other companies are depending on this mission, it is getting even more scrutiny than a Starlink flight
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 23, 2021
SpaceX will open Transporter-1’s launch window later today, January 23rd, at 9:40AM Eastern. The mission will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, and the company will livestream the event starting about 15 minutes before liftoff. You’ll be able to watch the launch as it happens in the video below:
SpaceX's first 'rideshare' mission will launch a record number of satellites – Yahoo Movies Canada
Swimming Australia has started discussions about a replacement domestic or virtual international competition for its athletes in case the Tokyo Olympics are cancelled, president Kieren Perkins said. Perkins, who won gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Games, was delighted that Friday’s “little moment of panic” had been firmly quashed but felt he owed it to Australia’s swimmers to put a contingency plan in place. “If the worst happens and Tokyo is cancelled, for our athletes who have had the opportunity to prepare and work so hard for so long to get to this moment, I think it behoves us to give them the best chance to at least test themselves and see what that work has created,” he told the Australian newspaper.
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