NIAC Awards Take Aim at Asteroid Mining, ISRU

Asteroid Itokawa (Credit: JAXA)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded five grants for the development of new technologies for analyzing asteroids, extracting resources from them, and using the materials for new space products.

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NIAC Phase I Award: Dismantling Rubble Asteroids with Soft-bots

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroid with Area-of-Effect Soft-bots (Credit: Jay McMahon)

Dismantling Rubble Pile Asteroids with Area-of-Effect Soft-bots

Jay McMahon
University of Colorado, Boulder
Boulder, Colo.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

This proposal seeks to develop a new type of soft robotic spacecraft which is specifically designed to move efficiently on the surface of, and in proximity to, rubble pile asteroids. These new spacecraft are termed Area-of-Effect Soft-bots (AoES) as they have large surface areas which enable mobility that is especially effective at small asteroids.

The surface mobility is enabled by using adhesion between the soft robot and the asteroid surface. The adhesive forces also allow the AoES to anchor themselves in order to liberate material from the asteroid and launch it off the surface for collection by an orbiting resource processing spacecraft – forming the fundamental pieces of a resource utilization mission to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA). Furthermore, the large area necessary for the adhesion based mobility and anchoring also gives the AoES a relatively high area-to-mass ratio, enabling fuel-free orbit control using solar radiation pressure (SRP) forces.

In total, this concept elegantly overcomes many of the difficulties typically encountered when trying to design a mission to retrieve a significant amount of material from an asteroid surface – in many cases using these perceived difficulties (e.g. microgravity, fast spin rates) to the advantage of the architecture.

Development of AoES in order to make this mission architecture feasible therefore has the potential to drastically improve the capabilities of harvesting water and other resources from the variety of small, plentiful, easily accessible NEAs – enabling further exploration and economic profit in the solar system.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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White House, SpaceX Veteran Phil Larson Joining CU Boulder

Phil Larson

BOULDER, Colo. (CU Boulder PR) — The University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Bobby Braun is announcing the appointment of Phil Larson as assistant dean for communications, strategy, and planning, where he will lead strategic relations for the college.

Larson – who was senior advisor for space and innovation at the White House, where he served from 2009 to 2014 – will join CU Boulder in February. Most recently, Larson was part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX team, supporting communications efforts as well as managing corporate projects.

Larson’s appointment concludes a national search carried out by a College of Engineering and Applied Science search committee.

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ULA Offers Free CubeSat Flights, Expand Payload Slots

ULA_logoCENTENNIAL, Colo., Nov. 19, 2015 (ULA PR) – As the most experienced launch company in the nation, United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today it is taking CubeSat rideshares to the next level by launching a new, innovative program offering universities the chance to compete for free CubeSat rides on future launches.

“ULA will offer universities the chance to compete for at least six CubeSat launch slots on two Atlas V missions, with a goal to eventually add university CubeSat slots to nearly every Atlas and Vulcan launch,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “There is a growing need for universities to have access and availability to launch their CubeSats and this program will transform the way these universities get to space by making space more affordable and accessible.”

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CU-Boulder Students, Faculty Pumped for Pluto Flyby

New Horizons' last look at Pluto's Charon-facing hemisphere reveals intriguing geologic details that are of keen interest to mission scientists. This image, taken early the morning of July 11, 2015, shows newly-resolved linear features above the equatorial region that intersect, suggestive of polygonal shapes. This image was captured when the spacecraft was 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) from Pluto. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)
New Horizons’ last look at Pluto’s Charon-facing hemisphere reveals intriguing geologic details that are of keen interest to mission scientists. This image, taken early the morning of July 11, 2015, shows newly-resolved linear features above the equatorial region that intersect, suggestive of polygonal shapes. This image was captured when the spacecraft was 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) from Pluto. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

BOULDER, Colo. (CU-Boulder PR) — After a nine-year journey of 3 billion miles, a piano-sized, power-packed NASA spacecraft has an upcoming date with history that some University of Colorado Boulder students, faculty and alumni wouldn’t miss for the world.

Tuesday, July 14, is the day the New Horizons spacecraft will whip by Pluto and become the first ever spacecraft to visit perhaps the most enchanting planet. A team of CU-Boulder students designed, built and tested the Student Dust Counter (SDC) for the mission to measure dust particles along the way — remnants of collisions between solar system bodies — making it the first student built and operated instrument ever to fly on a NASA planetary mission.

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CU-Boulder Payload Selected for Launch on Virgin Galactic Spaceship

Credit: Ken Brown
Credit: Ken Brown

BOULDER, Colo. (UC-Boulder PR) — A University of Colorado Boulder payload carrying a novel device designed to reduce the weight and cost of spacecraft fuel pumping systems has been manifested for launch on a suborbital space plane called SpaceShipTwo developed by the aerospace company Virgin Galactic.

The CU-Boulder payload consists of a lubrication-free, pistonless rocket fuel pump, said aerospace engineering sciences Associate Professor Ryan Starkey, principal investigator on the project. The device represents a potential advancement for rocket propellant pressurization and transfer that would reduce the weight and cost of spacecraft fuel systems.

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CU-Boulder Invites Teachers, Kids to be Part of Ants in Space Experiments on ISS

simpsons_kent_brockman_ants

BOULDER, Colo. (CU-Boulder PR) — Want to compare a kid’s experiment you can easily conduct on Earth to a similar one on the International Space Station, which is whipping around in weightlessness 200 miles over our heads at a mind-blowing 17,000 miles per hour? Well, here’s your chance.

The University of Colorado Boulder and its educational partners are seeking K-12 teachers, students and life-long learners around the world interested in how the low gravity on the ISS, which makes astronauts float, may affect the behavior of ants up there. Dubbed “Ants in Space,” the educational ant payload was designed and built by CU-Boulder’s BioServe Space Technologies and launched to the space station Jan. 9. The project involved shipping ants in specially built containers developed by BioServe, a part of the university’s aerospace engineering department, to the ISS using a commercial Cygnus spacecraft.

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