How to Turn an Asteroid Into a Spacecraft

project rama
Neel V. Patel
April 24, 2017

There is a lot to imagine what the future of humanity will be moving toward in the 21st century, but — assuming the species does not experience a calamity of some sorts — most of those dreams are peppered with the prospect of people speeding off into outer space, to explore and conquer worlds unknown. But few people have realized space is a two-way street. The future of the species beyond Earth does not simply mean building ships that will take us elsewhere; it also means the potential to build things that bring space to us.

“We want to turn an asteroid into spacecraft,” Phil Metzger said at the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium last August. Metzger was talking about Project RAMA: a scheme to essentially turn an asteroid into a mechanical machine capable of autonomously navigating through space towards specific destinations. That’s not even an exaggeration — that is literally the goal.

Obviously, the first question one has after they hear about something like this is what is the actual point in this. Metzger, a planetary physicist formerly based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, now working at the University of Central Florida and is a technical advisor for Project RAMA, told the NIAC Symposium the central benefit was to bring resources from vast distances to places closer and more easily accessible to human beings. This may include Earth’s orbit, colonies on other planets or moons, space stations, fuel and resource depots, or regions of the solar system where space miners are already situated.

Project RAMA is the brainchild of Jason Dunn, the CTO and co-founder of Made In Space. His company’s primary focus is to develop technologies that would make it possible to manufacture instruments and structures key to space exploration in outer space itself. The cost of launching things from the ground is enormous. It takes so much time and energy to build and fire a rocket capable of getting outside the Earth’s atmosphere. And while some like SpaceX have made great strides in proving the viability of reusable rockets, there is still a large cost that is irredeemable. The ability to build things in space itself would dramatically open up space travel and operations to a much wider bracket of the public and private sectors alike.

“We have this vision that as we move forward in space exploration, more and more of the things we need in space are manufactured there,” Dunn tells Inverse. “The ultimate idea is that we’re manufacturing those things in space using materials and resources that come from space itself. That, to us, is where space has to head for it to become a new place for people to live and for industry to find a way to thrive.”

Realizing such a vision means establishing a network of infrastructure that can move materials around. It’s not as if you can just build a giant space lasso that can wrangle resources over to you.

A few years ago, there were two different ideas Dunn and his colleagues at Made In Space had been discussing that seemed to converge and eventually meld into Project RAMA. The first was the notion of a self-replicating machine in space, along the lines of what great thinkers like John von Neumann and Freeman Dyson had previously played around with. “As a company building 3D printers for space, that’s always been fun to talk about.”

The other idea focused around asteroids and resources — how to find them, how to get to them, and how to mine them for resources.

“Of course the problem,” says Dunn, “is how to do you move an asteroid from its natural orbital location into one that’s a higher interest,” such as a Lagrange point parking orbit. “How do you make a very advanced robotic machine go into space and make more of itself?”

The answer, ostensibly, is quite a lot. So Dunn and his team started whittling down the concept into something much simpler: a simple, mechanical machine in space that’s also ginormous in size. The proposed solution was to build a version of the manufacturing technology the crew has been working on into what’s called a seed craft, which is capable of converting an asteroid into a giant mechanical machine, which can then fly back autonomously to points of interest.

“That was the beginning of Project RAMA,” says Dunn.

project rama seed craft diagram
A diagram of what Project RAMA’s seed craft might look like.

This isn’t just a weird dream drawn on a whiteboard in Made In Space’s office. Dunn and his team have pitched Project RAMA to NASA under the NIAC program, which offers researchers grants to conduct more in-depth studies on their very experimental proposals and demonstrate a proof of concept for some of the key technologies at hand.

Dunn and his team have just spent about nine months under a NIAC Phase I investigation trying to figure out just how feasible RAMA is, and they’re very encouraged by what they’ve learned so far. “If you compare what RAMA can do to all the other architectures that have been developed for moving an asteroid from one location to another, what we’ve found is that RAMA can allow for moving asteroids 100 times bigger than what is currently being conceived of,” he says.

The key reason is propulsion. RAMA’s technology doesn’t necessitate hauling huge amounts of propulsion to the asteroid in order to bring it closer to Earth or wherever. The seed craft converts the asteroid into a basic spacecraft that can fly itself using some of its own material for propulsion. Although that wipes out some of the asteroid’s resources from being harvested later, it’s still 100 times more than what other technologies could offer.

What exactly would that material be? It all depends on what kind of asteroid we’re talking about, but there’s an extraordinary potential to mine asteroids for precious metals rare on Earth, and fuel-dependent resources which could make space travel much more sustainable. Water in asteroids, for instance, could be extremely valuable, not just for allowing humans to survive in space, but for use as a potential source of propulsion.

The way RAMA would work depends, again, on the asteroid, but Dunn outlines what even the worst case option would be — an asteroid just made of rock and metal alloy, like iron. The seed craft would essentially hollow out the asteroid while producing thousands of “propellant shots,” which are basically rocky cannonballs. RAMA would also build several very big slings which operate almost like huge catapults. The asteroid self-propels by landing the catapults with these propellant shots, and flinging them out to impart a change in velocity in the opposite direction those shots are being fired in.

Obviously, the bigger the asteroid, the longer the mission takes. So far, the biggest asteroids the team has explored are on the order of 50 to 130 meters long. The seed craft also needs to possess enough power to convert a big ass space rock into a mechanical machine. It could take nearly a decade to fully convert an asteroid into a spacecraft which can maneuver itself to a suitable Lagrange point.

Learning that it was possible to move asteroids in this manner, however, is basically the key to making RAMA work. But there was another big solution Dunn and his team worked on that raised the potential behind this project for demonstrating how to actually find and identify asteroids of interests. To that end, the team used the NIAC funding to build a software called “Rock Finder,” which basically uses NASA on categorized and tracked near-Earth objects, and spits out answers relevant to what someone might be looking for a particular mission and its goals.

If you need a specific metallic asteroid by a particular date, Rock Finder will essentially build your mission design for you. It’s a tool no other party has ever developed. “This is exciting for us,” says Dunn, “because as our new report talks about, there are thousands and thousands more asteroids out there than we’ve ever found.”

Rock finder is critical to the idea of RAMA. When the seed craft finishes the conversion process, it moves to another asteroid, and then another. It’s in a perpetual state of work, able to convert as many asteroids as possible in succession. So while the entire process from launch to Lagrange might take a few decades, you could see multiple seed craft sending over many, many asteroids back to a closer proximity within a single time frame. Rock Finder is essential to this process because it can easily deduce the next target for the seed craft without much of a wait.

There is still a lot more to study before Project RAMA is even close to building a prototype. But based on the initial findings, Dunn and his team are very optimistic about how they push this concept forward and prove the constituent technologies are possible at a laboratory scale. And it falls exactly in line with what is already going on with Made In Space.

“Not only is it possible,” says Dunn, “it’s actually part of the same roadmap that Made In Space is build upon. Space has the resources we’re going to need for the future. We’d love to create something of a train line that continuously brings those resources to us. We can start planning the growth of humanity around that.”

Read More At:
Neel is a science and tech journalist from New York City, reporting on everything from brain-eating amoebas to space lasers used to zap debris out of orbit, for places like Popular Science and WIRED. He’s addicted to black coffee, old pinball machines, and terrible dive bars. Email him at

More Space News: Grand Duchy Of Luxembourg Affirms Rights To Space…

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
November 20, 2016

Just a couple of weeks ago I blogged about the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’s attempts to position itself as a leader in space-mining finance. As I argued then, Luxembourg has long been an international banking hub, and hence its decision to move into this area is not surprising. As I averred in that previous blog, space is a perfect way to mask all sorts of financial chicanery, and a convenient way to launder money or profits by overstating, or understating, certain numbers on one’s ledger books. After all, to catch such dubious dealings, one has to literally go out there and put boots on the asteroids, so to speak, and “see for oneself”. It’s a perfect way, in short, to extend that hidden system of finance I’ve been talking about so much over the past few years. Not only was space perhaps “secretly collateralized,” but it provides virtually limitless opportunities for cooking the books: say “Space Mining and Widgets” claims to have found vast resources on an asteroid in X quadrillions of dollars. One really wouldn’t know if that was the case unless one went there and independently verified it, beyond the usual means of spectrographic analysis and so on. Such analysis, or space probes collecting soil samples and so on, would provide margins of error, of course, but within those margins it could be a veritable playground for clever “bookkeeping.” Physicists and chemists become “interplanetary assayers for hire”, so to speak.

Well, here’s another intriguing story that was shared by Ms. C, and you’ll note the dateline – Nov 13, 2016 – puts this story once again into that weird context of the American election and its aftermath, a temporal frame in which we’ve seen a variety of other space-related stories coming out, including those which I blogged about yesterday. This one, however, is another “whopper doozie”:

Space Mining: Luxembourg’s New Law To Give Private Companies Right To Outer Space Resources

You’ll note that the Grand Duchy is, in effect, attempting to follow what has already essentially been decided in the US, and to become the first European country – notably an international banking hub to boot – to grant ownership of resources extracted from near Earth objects like asteroids:

“The legal framework we put in place is perfectly in line with the Outer Space Treaty. Our law does not suggest to either establish or imply in any way sovereignty over a territory or over a celestial body. Only the appropriation of space resources is addressed in the legal framework,” Etienne Schneider, deputy prime minister and minister of the economy, said in an official announcement of the draft law.

According to Article 1 of the draft law, space resources are capable of being appropriated in accordance with international law. This makes Luxembourg the first European country to provide legal ownership of external space resources.

Of course, one can quibble about the niceties of international law and what does or does not constitute “sovereignty,” but the bottom line remains that is one is extracting resources from a piece of land on Earth or elsewhere, one is in essence asserting sovereignty. And this is a pattern, like I argued last week, that could equally be applied to the “East Indies” companies of yesteryear, which effectively extended British and Dutch sovereignty via corporate cut-outs to encompass empires that engulfed lands far from The Hague or London.

What I suspect this law does is to…

Continue Reading At:

Profile photo of Joseph P. Farrell

About Joseph P. Farrell

Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.


NASA Plans To Capture An Asteroid And Place It In Orbit Around The Moon

NASA mission
August 15, 2016

It seems that throughout the years, science fiction ahs slowly become a reality for NASA and other privately owned companies. A never-before-seen mission is being put together that will capture an asteroid and ‘drag’ it into orbit around the moon using a revolutionary electric propulsion system.

Finally, the next step for space exploration has been given the go ahead, and NASA scientists are planning a never-before-seen mission that will ignite mankind’s interest for space exploration.

The idea is simple. A spacecraft will travel towards a celestial object where it will ‘pluck’ a large boulder off the asteroid and transport it into orbit around the moon. NASA has revealed that once the object is in orbit around the moon, in will become a space destination that will allow future human crews to prepare for a mission to Mars and beyond.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is believed to cost around $1.4 billion not taking into account the costs for the launch and preparation. The mission is scheduled to lift off in December of 2021.

The mission is divided into two KEY phases: Robotic and crewed mission.


The mission’s crew segment which is estimated to launch sometime around 2026, but it remains an early mission concept phase that will most likely have a lot of rescheduling.

Speaking about the revolutionary mission, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot said: “This is an exciting milestone for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, not only is ARM leveraging agency-wide capabilities, it will test a number of new technologies already in development.”

In April, NASA awarded a $67m contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne for the development of a revolutionary electric propulsion system which is expected to be one of the most important parts of the robotic mission.

Called Advanced Electric Propulsion System or AEPS, the system could greatly increase spaceflight fuel efficiency by a staggering factor of 10 when comapšred to current rocket technology in use.

“Since its early formulation, NASA has invited mission concept feedback and development ideas from the planetary science community, general public, US and global industry, and international partners,” said Michele Gates, NASA’s programme director for ARM. “With KDP-B under our belt, ARM can now move forward to define partnerships and opportunities for long-term engagement.”

NASA expects to select the targeted asteroid by 2020 but until then, the American Space Agency is using 2008 EV5 as their reference target as research for potential asteroid continues.

Before its trip to lunar orbit, the new ARM spacecraft will show off its SciFi-like asteroid deflection technique called ‘Gravity Tractor.’

Almost as if the idea came out of a science fiction movie, the spacecraft plus the mass of the asteroid will create a small gravitational attraction that will allow for the alteration of the orbit of the celestial body.

In the future, NASA is expected to use asteroids ass stepping stones in the journey to Mars.

Read More At:

Image Credit NASA.


NASA Beefs Up Spending On Its Doomsday Asteroid Detection

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
August 9, 2016

Yesterday, you’ll recall, I blogged about the untimely death of Major General John Rossi, the USA’s newly appointed “space commander”, and I indicated that while the story of his death remains bland and non-commital, the context and timing of it seems a little odd, given this year’s already strange list of space stories. Indeed, for this year alone, those stories include (1) a private US company being given recent permission by the USA to go to the Moon, (2) an earlier story from this year about how NASA has dramatically beefed up its spending on “doomsday asteroid detection” (subject of today’s blog), (3) stories about NASA jets being parked on runways at a little known US base in East Africa, and so on.

Consider this story about NASA beefing up its “doomsday asteroid detection” effort, shared by Mr. M.D., from earlier this year:

Now you’ll note two curious things about this article: first NASA has dramatically increased its funding for asteroid detection:

The financing for the Near-Earth Objects (NEO) monitoring program has grown from $4 million to $50 million since 2010, due to what NASA say are increasing asteroid threats in recent years.

That’s $46 million in just six years, a drop in the bucket for a run-amok federal government now measuring programs in the hundreds of billions of dollars. But it’s not exactly pocket change either.

Secondly, there’s this reference:

“Asteroid detection, tracking and defense of our planet is something that NASA, its interagency partners, and the global community take very seriously,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in the statement. “While there are no known impact threats at this time, the 2013 Chelyabinsk super-fireball and the recent ‘Halloween Asteroid’ close approach remind us of why we need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes to the sky.”

What I find grist for my high octane speculation mill is the reference to “defense of our planet” and the “Chelyabinsk super-fireball”, the meteoric explosion about the large Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013. Regular readers of this website may remember my various blogs about that topic, or even my statements on various interviews at the time, where I pointed out that there was much about the Chelyabinsk incident that didn’t quite “sit right,” not the least of which was then Russian prime minister Dmitri Medvedev’s announcement, fully a month before the incident, that Russia should defend itself against asteroids, and called upon the rest of the world to enter into the creation of an international planetary defense grid to do so. But in the meantime, Medvedev said Russia to press ahead to defend itself and its territory against the threat anyway, international cooperation or no. And he offered an unusual list of techniques by which to do so, suggesting that its thermonuclear missiles could do the trick, and that it had “other means” of doing so, a reference that to my mind suggested something more exotic than H-bombs, but equally if not more destructive.

Continue Reading At:

Profile photo of Joseph P. Farrell
Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.

Project RAMA: Turning Asteroids Into Spaceships

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
June 24, 2016

I couldn’t resist this story, even though this week has been largely taken up with geopolitical news. It was shared by Ms. M.W. and it’s an example of the ssort of dreaming that is now taking place for the commercialization of space:

Plan to Turn Asteroids Into Spaceships Could Spur Off-Earth Mining

Note first of all that this is a serious plan being funded by a NASA grant:

A few decades from now, asteroids may be flying themselves to mining outposts in space, nobly sacrificing their abundant resources to help open the final frontier to humanity.

That’s the vision of California-based company Made In Space, which was recently awarded NASA funding to investigate how to turn asteroids into giant, autonomous spacecraft.

The project, known as RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata), is part of Made In Space’s long-term plan to enable space colonization by helping make off-Earth manufacturing efficient and economically viable. [How Asteroid Mining Could Work (Infographic)]

Arthur C. Clark fans will at least appreciate the reference to his RAMA series of science fiction novels. But now note what the project supposedly involves:

Continue Reading At:


Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.

Russia Building Out Its Asteroid Detection System & A Look Back At…

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
June 8, 2016

This article from Russia’s TASS news agency was shared by Ms. M.W., and it contains a number interesting statements if one is willing to read between the lines a bit, and to place it in a certain interesting context. That context is the February 15, 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor, a spectacular event any way one looks at it. What was odd is that, about one month prior to the event, then Russian President(and current Prime Minister) Dmitri Medvedev stated that the Russian Federation should build out an asteroid detection and defense system, with or without international cooperation and support. At the time, he also stated that asteroids threatening to Earth could be targeted by Russian thermonuclear weapons or “other means” of destruction, a comment which he left hanging in the air without further elaboration.

Ten, after the Chelyabinsk event, Mr. Medvedev again called for the Russian Federation to build out such a detection system. As the following article indicates, they’re doing it:

Russia to create system of warning about dangerous space bodies — newspaper

Note the first two paragraphs here:

It is necessary to develop hardware and software systems for the collection, processing and analysis of information about potentially dangerous objects of natural origin”, TsNIIMASH spokesperson Olga Zharova told Izvestia. She said the system development efforts envisage international cooperation, in particular, the exchange of data on the near-Earth space will be offered to the world’s leading space agencies.

The system development will be carried out during the creation of the third stage of the Automated Space Hazard Warning System (ASPOS OKP), the funding for which, according to the Federal Space Program for 2016-2025, is planned at 4.1 billion rubles ($61.25 million).

“The system’s aim is to identify a dangerous cosmic body not three hours before its collision with the Earth, but well in advance, so that we could be prepared and in the future to take certain steps to divert and destroy comets or asteroids”, full member of the International Academy of Astronautics Gennady Raikunov told the newspaper. (Emphasis added)

Note also the article linked in the TASS story:

Continue Reading At:


Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and “strange stuff”. His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into “alternative history and science”.

Breakaway Links Of The Day – June 2, 2016


Zy Marquiez
June 2, 2016

Here are some of yesterday’s links.

Hope everyone’s safe.

US House To NASA – Start Planning Manned Lunar Missions
[ | Dr. Joseph P. Farrell]

Next Frontier: Asteroids May Become Spaceships
[RT America | Ashlee Banks | Leroy Chiao]

Zika Fraud Update, Rio Olympics, The Op Against Brazil
[ | | Jon Rappoport]

Fascinating!  5000-Year-Old Ural Petroglyphs Depict Advanced Chemical Structures
[ | Staff]

Police Don’t Need Warrants For Cell Phone Location Data, Court Rules
[RT America | Lionel Media]

Publication Of EPA Watch Water Test Results Reveals Alarming Lead Contamination In Parts of Arizona & California
[ | Mike Adams]

Mindboggling Discovery:  The Incredible Ancient Megaliths Of The Ural Mountains
[ | Staff]

Taiwan Recalls Quake Oats After Finding Traces Of Glyphosate
[ | Julie Fidler]

General Mills Recalls 10 Million Pounds Of Flour Over E. Coli Outbreak
[ | Anna Scanlon]

Saudis Have Lost The Oil War – F. William Engdahl
[ | F. WIlliam Engdahl]

Next Frontier: Asteroids May Become Spaceships

Source: RT America
June 2, 2016

US-based company Made in Space is exploring ways to use gravity to turn asteroids into self-powered spaceships. Former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao joins RT America’s Ashlee Banks to discuss the viability of this technology and whether it could be the future of space travel.

The Pentagon Wants Reusable Space Plane At Top Of Budget

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
March 10, 2016

This story is important in the context of the story about the successful testing of high energy laser sublimation of basalt a couple of days ago, a proof of concept experiment necessary if the plans to build an asteroid-zapping weapons platform ever is to see the light of day.

You’ll recall, though, that in the blog the principal problem to be overcome was not the concept but the scale. To zap asteroids with lasers (or for that matter masers or grasers) is to have a sufficient scale in order to zap small to medium sized asteroids, and that requires a large energy source to pump the weapon itself.

Then, assuming these hurdles can be overcome, then it would have to be built, and all those new-fangled propulsion systems would have to be added to it to move it around to be able to target different asteroids (or whatever else).

Continue Reading At:

That Laser Asteroid Mini-Death Star Thing Is Back In The News

“Yes, you caught it: I said weapon, for if a weapon can be constructed to vaporize asteroids, say, of small or medium size, imagine what such a weapon might do to buildings or targets on earth, with appropriate phase conjugation to minimize atmospheric effects. Imagine the use of masers, or (worse) grazers(gamma ray lasers), used with interferometry and phase conjugation. And if you’re keeping score, this is another “hit” for Dr. Carol Rosin, who long ago indicated in her affidavit to Dr. Stephen Greer, that the “plan” she had been told by Dr. von Braun, the plan to weaponize space, would first be communists, then terrorists, then nations of concern, then asteroids, and finally, extraterrestrials. We’re in “asteroid phase,” and that suggests something else, and something profoundly disturbing” [Bold Emphasis Added]

Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
March 8, 2016

Some weeks ago – I don’t even remember how long – I blogged about the latest idea that scientists had come up with for defending Earth from asteroid impacts, with high energy lasers, called the DE-STAR. At the time, of course, this was just an idea.

Well, Mr. B.G. found this article and apparently, it has actually undergone it’s first proof of concept experiment:

Scientists develop mini Death Star to protect us from asteroids

Now, here’s the basic idea of the laser asteroid zapper:

The idea has been around for years but the team at the University of California say laboratory tests show their De-Star – or Directed Energy System for Targeting of Asteroids and exploration – could actually work.

They envisage putting an unmanned De-Star craft in orbit. At the first sign of a impending disaster it would target the asteroid with a high-energy laser, causing part of the rock to vaporize in a process known as sublimation.

That ejection of gas would then create sufficient force to alter the course of the rock.

So far, so good, But now here’s the bad news: the proof of concept experiments actually worked:

Continue Reading At: