Rooting for spacedev
I am rooting for spacedev
's efforts so hard I may just have to buy stock in the company
Why? They are innovating in every endeavour of space development they've yet entered - among other things, using Linux in a series of small satellites
... and the CEO truly "gets it" about the value of asteroid exploration
You have the main asteroid belt out between Mars and Jupiter, and the minor asteroid belt between Earth and Mars. Scientists believe that there are approximately 100 million objects in the minor asteroid belt. It's known that 25 percent of those are energetically the easiest bodies to get to in the solar system. They're energetically easier to get to than the moon, even though the moon is two and a half days away and the asteroids are weeks and months away. Energy equals money.
Then there's more good news: Scientists believe and hope that approximately 20 percent of those 100 million objects may be dormant comets. That means there may be 20 million deposits of water in orbits around the sun between the earth and Mars. Well, 20 percent of 25 percent of 100 million translates into 5 million deposits of water that are the easiest things to get to in the solar system. Water is hydrogen and oxygen, and that’s rocket fuel.
Decades ago, science-fiction author Robert Heinlein said that when we get to Earth orbit we’re halfway to anywhere. What he meant was that the amount of energy to get us to Earth orbit is equal to the amount of energy needed to get us anywhere else in the solar system from Earth orbit. The problem we have today is that once we get to Earth orbit, our tanks are empty — and it requires a huge effort to get beyond Earth orbit, and that's why very few missions go out into to deep space.
If you had a railroad tanker car full of water in Earth orbit, that would be 100 tons of water. People recognize that it costs $5,000 to $10,000 per pound to get anything off the surface of the earth into orbit. That means lifting that amount of water into Earth orbit would cost $1 billion to $2 billion. If you were able to send a robotic drill and extraction device to one of the easiest and cheapest of the 5 million deposits of water, and bring back that much water back to Earth orbit, using the water itself as propellant, you'd wind up with an asset in low Earth orbit worth $1 billion to $2 billion.
Now we'd have a filling station. We can refuel our tanks, and we can open up the rest of the solar system. That's the killer app.
More specifically, the killer app is solar thermal water propulsion. That means taking something as simple as mirrors in space — where the solar energy is intense — simply reflecting that intense sunlight onto a little heat exchanger, squirting water from a big bag through the heat exchanger, flashing it to superheated steam out the nozzle in the back, and off you go.
That is what we refer to at SpaceDev as an elegantly simple solution. Elegant simplicity is what's going to open up space, and solar thermal water propulsion is elegantly simple. It goes out and brings back the very substance that is life support in its essence, water. And liquid water is also rocket propulsion.
There are 5 million deposits of water out there, that are the easiest things to get to in the solar system. Why in the world are we looking at deep dark craters at the south pole of the moon that are operating at nearly absolute zero? There's no sunlight down there. There's no energy down there. Even if there's water, it's more like a frost mixed in with frozen dust, sand and gravel. How are you going to mine it, extract it and put it to use? It's ludicrous, especially when we've got 5 million deposits of water that is 50 to 80 percent pure.
...I call dormant comets and water in space "white gold," as opposed to the black gold that allowed the modern industrial society to exist as it does today.
Bonus Link: Some information about hayabusa
Labels: asteroids, hayabusa, jim benson, space, space05