Last month, the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at the California Institute of Technology released a report titled, “Small Satellites: A Revolution in Space Science,” which examines the sorts of missions types of missions that could be with rapidly evolving small satellites. The potential missions described in the report cover planetary science (moons, asteroids, etc.), astrophysics and heliophysics.
The planetary science missions include the use of mother ships that would deploy CubeSats and impactors to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, tens of thousands of ChipSats to characterize Saturn’s rings, landing vehicles to explore asteroids, and small spacecraft that would map the moon’s interior and search for volatiles and organics.
In the last post, I introduced the two SBIR Select Phase 1 contracts that Altius has commenced work on. This blog post will focus on the other two Asteroid Redirect Mission contracts which mentioned there. These have been selected for contract negotiation, but aren’t active contracts yet, so I will try to be a little more high-level in this blog post.
Here’s something interesting: the Keck Institute for Space Studies has continued work on the Asteroid Return Mission Study that it published last April. The report is the basis of a new NASA plan to return an asteroid near Earth and send a human crew to explore it.
Media reports are indicating that President Barack Obama’s budget will propose that NASA spend $105 million next year to begin a program to capture an asteroid and bring it back to a Lagrangian point near Earth where astronauts would be able to visit it using the Orion spacecraft beginning in 2021.
A new study sponsored by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) has concluded that it would be possible to return an asteroid weighing approximately 500 metric tons to high lunar orbit where it would be mined for resources by 2025.
The Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study, published on April 2, was prepared for KISS, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Co-leaders of the study included John Brophy of NASA JPL/Caltech, Fred Culick of Caltech, and Louis Friedman of The Planetary Society and participants included representatives of other NASA centers, various universities, institutes and private companies.
The report may provide a preview of what a new company named Planetary Resources spearheaded by the X PRIZE Foundation’s Peter Diamandis will unveil during a press conference in Seattle next Tuesday. Two of the 34 study participants were Planetary Resources President and Chief Engineer Chris Lewicki and former astronaut Tom Jones, who is an adviser to the company. The start-up – which is backed by Google billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Microsoft mogul Charles Simonyi, filmmaker James Cameron, and Ross Perot, Jr. – says it will “overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.”