A recently completed economic analysis of space transportation supplied from near-Earth object (NEO) resources demonstrates “the potential to break the tyranny of increasing space transportation costs” created by dependence on Earth-based resources, particularly propellant.

Joel Sercel, Founder and Principal Engineer of TransAstra Corporation, authored the analysis, done under a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program Phase I economic research for space development grant.

Apis spacecraft and architecture overview.
Credit: TransAstra

Unaffordable ambitions

“The increasing challenges of space exploration, particularly by humans, rapidly become unaffordable if only Earth-based resources are available” the appraisal states. “NASA’s ambitions in the area of deep space human exploration are not projected to be affordable within a realistic budget (currently close to $20B/yr in 2017 dollars) without fundamental change,” the report notes.

Outlined in the Sercel report is use of an Asteroid-Provided In-Situ Supplies (Apis™) spacecraft to extract resources from near Earth objects (NEOs) and the creation of a space-based transportation infrastructure, including a crewed lunar outpost in an energetically advantageous lunar orbit for storage and propellant processing along with reusable spacecraft for transport purposes.

Honey Bee Robotic asteroid capture for ISRU resource return, as viewed in this artist’s conception.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation

Business case

Space resources can be utilized to support crewed lunar surface exploration, crewed NEO exploration, crewed Mars missions, and even space tourism. This analysis further suggests that with relatively modest initial government investment, a business case can be developed for a profitable industry in space resources.

 

Fundamental changes

The report suggests that two fundamental changes can enable an exciting program of human exploration that includes a deep space orbital outpost, a lunar surface outpost, a rich program of human exploration of Near Earth Asteroids, and multiple human missions to the Mars system which includes an orbital outpost and landed surface missions.

Propellant depot and outpost configuration.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation

These changes are:

  • A large scale shift in implementation strategy focused on a Public Private Partnership to capitalize on private sector best practices for cost effective development, and
  • The use of asteroid In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for all in-space transportation beyond low Earth orbit capitalizing on a propellant depot near the top of the Earth-Moon gravity well.

Resources

To view the final report — Stepping Stones: Economic Analysis of Space Transportation Supplied from NEO Resources — go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/eso_final_report.pdf

Also, go to the TransAstra Corporation website at:

http://www.transastracorp.com/

One Response to “Study Offers Deep Space Thoughts on Off-Earth Resources”

  • Leonard,

    Thank you for the heads-up on this study. I’ve been interested in extraterrestrial resources since the first Off-Earth Mining Forum at the University of New South Wales in 2013. It’s also worth noting that these resources could be tremendously beneficial to activities in Earth orbit. The larger the scale of development, the more off-Earth resources win on a cost basis.

    Best wishes

    Gordon Roesler

Leave a Reply

Griffith Observatory Event