A Deep Space Industries concept for a spacecraft that could retrieve space resources from the surface of an asteroid. HOUSTON — NASA is seeking proposals for studies and technology development efforts related to the use of space resources, particularly as they apply to future human missions to the moon and Mars. The program will cover both trade studies as well as development how to invest in planetary resources key components and subsystems needed to extract water, carbon dioxide and other volatiles from the Martian atmosphere and the soils of Mars, the moon, and asteroids.
Such resources can then be used for life support and as propellants, reducing the reliance future expeditions have on resources transported, at significant expense, from Earth. NASA plans to make the bulk of the awards in one of three tracks, devoted to the development and testing of components for ISRU systems. 500,000 per year for up to three years. 750,000 a year for up to three and a half years. As with other NextSTEP projects, NASA expects companies to share in the costs of the projects.
The announcement comes as there is growing commercial interest in extracting resources from asteroids, in particular water from subsurface ice or hydrated minerals that could be used for propellant or life support. Companies such as Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources are planning robotic missions in the next several years to visit near Earth asteroids to determine the presence and accessibility of water. James Orsulak, director of sales and business development at Planetary Resources, during a panel discussion Dec. Planetary Resources is launching a six-unit cubesat in January, one of a number of secondary payloads on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle mission, to test sensor technologies. Orsulak said the company is focused on a 2020 mission that will fly six spacecraft to six asteroids, mapping their surfaces for water resources and firing penetrator probes to perform analysis.
The new NASA solicitation may not be of much help to asteroid mining companies, as it is focused primarily on using lunar and Martian resources. NASA’s strategy to stimulate the commercial space industry while leveraging commercial space and terrestrial capabilities. The emergence of space resources companies also encouraged NASA to pursue this project. Diane Linne, a senior research engineer at NASA’s Glenn Research Center who is project manager for an ISRU technology project supported by the agency’s human exploration and operations mission directorate, said on the panel that those companies’ efforts helped persuade NASA to invest in ISRU technology research. Now we have a budget, and it’s our turn to help you. Space resources, whether developed for NASA missions or produced commercially, remains a long-term endeavor.
Rick Tumlinson, founder of Deep Space Industries. However, the payoff in the long term can be incredibly huge. LUXEMBOURG CITY — An agreement announced Nov. 15 brings together a space company looking to grow its capabilities with a government seeking to expand its presence in the space industry. San Francisco-based Spire Global announced it will establish a European headquarters in Luxembourg that will support engineering, data analytics and business development work.