SpaceFab Plans Public Use Commercial Space Telescope

Computer rendering of SpaceFab.US’s dual purpose Waypoint Space Telescope cubesat for astronomy and Earth observation, with telescope optics and solar panels extended. (Credit: SpaceFab)

ORANGE COUNTY, California (SpaceFab PR) — SpaceFab.US is a new space startup company working on space telescope satellites, asteroid mining, and space manufacturing. The company, also known as SpaceFab, is designing and building its first space telescope, scheduled for launch in late 2019. The satellite, called the Waypoint space telescope, will be available to the general public to take astronomical or Earth observation pictures, making it the world’s first dual purpose commercial space telescope. It can be used for astronomy when orbiting over the night side of Earth, and used for Earth observation when orbiting over the daylight side, about 40 to 50 minutes on each side.

Anyone will be able to buy observation time and “task” the space telescope to take pictures of the Earth or the sky. Archived low resolution pictures will be free. Tasked high resolution pictures will be low cost, allowing a large variety of public and private customers to use it for education, amateur and professional astronomy, market research, environmental monitoring, mineral prospecting, and more.

After establishing their space telescope business, SpaceFab will focus on their next big goal of mining asteroids. While other asteroid mining companies plan to mine water from asteroids, SpaceFab is focusing on asteroid metal. That means SpaceFab won’t need the expensive step of prospecting for a water bearing asteroid, because the locations of several large metal asteroids are already known. Instead, they plan to mine small chunks of pure strong metal from the asteroid’s surface using electromagnets, a very simple process. The bits of metal can then be turned into semi-finished products like steel alloy billets, slabs, and metal powder.

There are asteroids that should contain pure metal alloys of nickel steel. This nickel steel can be used to make metal objects, tools, and machinery, because it has strength similar to many types of steel that are used here on Earth. SpaceFab estimates that over 50 billion tons of steel have been produced on Earth since the beginning of the Iron Age. The largest metal asteroid, 16 Psyche, weighs over 2 quadrillion tons, potentially containing 40,000 times more steel than has been produced on Earth. SpaceFab wants to be the first company to make use of this vast metal resource, enough to last for millions of years.

The company thinks that it will not be feasible to extract platinum and other precious metals from asteroids for a very long time. The platinum concentration in metal asteroids is expected to be less than .01%, so SpaceFab’s focus is on the industrial use of asteroid metal.

Manufacturing in space is SpaceFab’s long term goal. They want to provide everyone the ability to make their own metal objects using factories in space. The objects can be simple parts, turned into tools, or assembled into complex machinery.

They plan to send a small general purpose fully automated factory, weighing one to two tons to a metal asteroid like 16 Psyche. The factory will process the raw chunks of pure metal into basic parts using tools like metal 3D printers and CNC machines, then will robotically assemble the parts into equipment and machinery. The space factory would use a portion of its production capacity to build equipment for customers, and another portion to build additional machinery to increase its own manufacturing capacity. Initially, specialty components such as motors, bearings, and cutting tools would have to sent up from Earth, but over time, many of the specialty components will be made by the in-space factory.

One scenario they are studying is to start with a factory weighing two metric tons, which could mine and manufacture half a percent of its mass (10 kilograms) in finished product per day. With 20% of the factory output going to customer products, and 80% to growing and improving the factory, within a period of fifteen years the factory size would increase to 400 tons and the factory output for customer products would grow to 120 tons a year. After thirty years, the factory size would increase to over 80,000 tons and the factory output for customer products would grow to 25,000 tons a year. At that point, the space factory could build fifty International Space Station’s equivalent in mass each year.

Most of the major costs for in-space mining and manufacturing will be lower than Earth costs, because the raw asteroid metal is free, the energy from sunlight is free and available 24 hours a day, and space real estate is free (no one can own it, sell it, or rent it). SpaceFab’s factory capacity will start small with its initial factory, then grow exponentially, similar to the way computer capacity has grown in a “Moore’s Law” fashion since the invention of the integrated circuit. “Eventually, exponential space manufacturing should make it less expensive to manufacture objects in space than to manufacture them on Earth”, said Randy Chung, CEO of SpaceFab.US. “Huge structures like self sustaining space stations can be built at very low cost. That’s a future we look forward to.”

Besides the easy availability of asteroid metal, exponential space manufacturing will be enabled by software such as ROS (Robot Operating System) for controlling industrial robots, Gazebo for virtual factory simulation, OpenCV for computer vision, and TensorFlow for machine learning and object recognition. All of these software frameworks and libraries exist now, are continually updated with new features and capabilities, and will be very useful in implementing fully automated factories without the need for teleoperation.

SpaceFab’s fundraising is unusual. They are the first US space company to raise funds using the JOBS Act’s Title III Regulation Crowdfunding program approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission in May 2016. They are currently raising a seed round of funding through Wefunder.com, which allows anyone around the world to invest and own a part of SpaceFab.

To learn more about SpaceFab.US and their space telescope, asteroid mining, and exponential space manufacturing plans, visit :

www.spacefab.us

About SpaceFab.US, Inc.

Founded in 2016, SpaceFab.US is a New Space startup located in Orange County, California, working on space telescope satellites, asteroid mining, and space manufacturing. We are designing our first space telescope, scheduled for launch in late 2019.

The co-founders are Randy Chung, who has worked at Hughes Aircraft, Western Digital, Rockwell Semiconductor, and Conexant, and Sean League, who has worked at nLight, MCI Worldcom, and Nortel. Together, we have over 50 years of experience in electronics, computers, software, cameras, telescopes, and astronomy. Visit us at our website – www.spacefab.us – follow us onFacebook+SpaceFab and Wefunder+SpaceFab.

  • duheagle

    Nifty!

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, hope they have the money to close the business case. This is a good example of the type of business modes needed to move beyond NASA.