How to Turn an Asteroid Into a Spacecraft

project rama
Source: Inverse.com
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: Inverse.com
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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 neel@inverse.com.

How Space Tourists Will Benefit From No Government Regulation

astronaut-space-nasa
Source: TheDailyBell
March 30, 2017

Space tourism industry has a chance to show benefits of less regulation

If space truly is the final frontier, then it won’t be long until the first pioneers are making the journey, as several companies race to take paying passengers out of the Earth’s atmosphere and beyond. And true to form, right on its heels will be the regulators, red tape lassos in hand.

But like any brand new industry, the slight head start of the businesses will give them the opportunity to show the high standards that can be accomplished absent government control — and with any luck, they can do it in a way compelling enough to cast doubt on the “necessity” of regulation.

A March 20 article in Quartz about space tourism details the thus-far minimal regulatory burden on the burgeoning industry and questions how passengers will be protected without the “benefit” of tight regulations.

The first spaceflight participants will be guinea pigs in an experiment that asks: Just what does it mean to be safe in space when the government isn’t in charge?

The obvious answer, to those who believe in the power of market-driven incentives, is that space tourism will likely be safer with minimal government intervention than it would be with tight regulations and oversight, since the companies will police themselves, as Blue Origin Executive Erika Wagner says in the article.

Wagner recently told an audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘ . . . in terms of us having a safe place in the market, we take that seriously, we want to put our own families on board, we take that very seriously. So we are holding ourselves to internal standards.’

The case for strict government regulation is built on some faulty beliefs about humanity and behavior. It assumes that people in business are at their core unconcerned about other people and are motivated solely by profit. It assumes in contrast, that those people in government are the complete opposite, motivated only by altruism and never by self-interest. On this questionable foundation is built the assertion that the people in government must regulate the people in business so that the interests of customers and the public at large are protected.

It is easy enough to strike down these arguments. First, this stark divide between the values of businessmen and politicians does not exist. Good or bad personality traits can be found within any group, and I would argue that you’ll actually find disproportionately more politicians on the self-interested end of the spectrum than in other career paths, because politics either attracts or creates those kinds of people.

In any event, there is not a neutral ruling elite that can sit above the fray, benevolently handing down edicts to keep the otherwise-evil businesses in check. Politicians and regulatory agencies have a dog in the fight too, be it money, connections, political pressure, or desire for power.

But for argument’s sake, let’s assume the worst of businesses and the best of government. Even in this case, the goal for both parties is the same: safe space travel. At their most altruistic, regulators want it because they don’t want people to die. At their worst, space travel businesses want it because death and injury is bad for business.

Any company, whether they are building and flying rockets or simply selling sandwiches, needs to have customers to stay in business. Blue Origin, SpaceX, Boeing and Virgin Galactic — all companies planning to fly people out into space — won’t be able to keep customers if people aren’t flying back to Earth intact.

And unlike the mistakes of a sandwich shop, which might never make the front page news, in a pioneering industry like commercial space flight, you can bet every potential customer on earth would hear about the company’s missteps. As safety risks increase, customers will decrease, and if that balance gets out of whack, the company will fail.

Not all customers desire the same level of safety. And that’s OK. When regulations are minimal, companies can cater to whatever customer base they want. Riskier or more expensive products or services will  have a smaller customer base than those that are safer or cheaper.

Perhaps each space tourism company will use this formula to choose a different niche; companies could advertise that they tested their spacecraft the most, or offer the least expensive weightlessness experience, or orbit the earth the fastest.  In this way, less regulation gives the consumer more choices, while regulation would restrict some of these options, eliminating the preferences of some customers while simultaneously crippling those niche businesses.

“Minimal” Regulation

What does “minimal” regulation look like in the space tourism industry? Right now, it’s governed by the Commercial Space Act, which establishes the Secretary of Transportation as the governing authority. The Secretary has the power to grant launch licenses to rockets, which can include requirements on crew training and medical standards.

The license holder must inform crew and passengers in writing about the risks involved in space travel, and let them know that the United States Government has not certified the launch vehicle as safe for carrying crew or space flight participants. The Secretary can also restrict rocket design features or operating practices that have resulted in serious or fatal injury or a high risk thereof.

By many standards, that amount of regulation is already too much. It’s not that these rules are especially onerous or illogical; it’s just that they are unnecessary. Crew members and paying customers are voluntarily participating in space flight — a non-essential service, moreover — through the company. Therefore, customers and employees should work directly with the company to ensure a satisfactory experience. The company can then meet those demands or lose those customers and workers. They can cut out the middleman of regulation because there is no one to protect; all parties are already satisfied, and customers are signing up in droves. According to the article, Virgin Galactic has accrued 700 paid passengers since 2005.

The article cites Uber as a close example of how the space travel industry could expect to pave its own way:

Because the slate is still blank for how the federal government will treat the space business, the earliest companies will be in a position to set the tone, much as Uber’s regulatory battles laid the groundwork for the still tetchy relationship between cities and ride-hailing apps.

This is a fitting analogy, but frustrating if space tourism goes the way of ride-hailing apps. Because Uber and others like it are another example of a business in which regulators tried to fix problems that didn’t exist. Everyone involved was already happy. And yet because of pressure from the highly-regulated taxi companies, politicians implemented regulations to handcuff ride-sharing companies as well, under the guise of consumer protection.

In my home state of Massachusetts, for example, a bill regulating ride-sharing companies required Uber drivers to complete a two-part background check, carry insurance coverage of at least $1 million, and have their vehicles get a second safety inspection in addition to the annual inspection required of all registered cars. And—perhaps the biggest affront— the law required the companies to pay 20 cents per ride to the state, which will fund public transportation, including the taxi industry. The bill was signed into law last August, adding Massachusetts to the long list of states that punish and restrict the ride-sharing app companies while buoying their competitors.

Yet Uber and other ride-sharing app companies have largely survived the onslaught of regulations because the service they offer is so attractive, not only from a practical standpoint, but also a symbolic one. It gives both customers and drivers freedom and self-determination, the ability to set their own hours, choose their own route.

And that’s just ground transportation. It’s hard to imagine a more freeing experience than blasting off in a rocket to outer space, quite literally extricating oneself from earthly cares. So while we will likely see a shorter leash on space tourism companies as the industry matures and regulators catch up, these pioneering companies have a chance to demonstrate that they can be self policing. They can prove that private industry can safely, astonishingly, and beautifully launch people into the final frontier — and bring them home again.

Read More At: TheDailyBell.com

Space News: NASA’s EM [Warp] Drive Paper Says It Works, Musk Wants To…

Source: GizaDeathStar.com
Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
November 19, 2016

To say that the last two weeks have been an incredible period for news would be putting it mildly, by almost anyone’s criteria. One of the most interesting stories – well, interesting to me at least – was that indicating the President-elect plans to reorient NASA from its current Low Earth Orbit mission orientation to a new deep-space, long-term human exploration mission. In this, there was nothing really that new. Previous presidents have tried to do this, beginning with the administration of G.H.W. Bush, which was then revived under his son G.W. Bush, and even President Obama made a couple of attempts to reorient NASA; none of the efforts were really successful. However, it should also be remembered that DARPA, or as we affectionately refer to it here (following a suggestion of Mr. J.B.), the Diabolically Apocalyptic Research Projects Agency, announced during the second Obama administration a goal to make the United States “warp capable” in 100 years. So, quietly, even during the “space quiescent” administrations of Bush II and Obama, space has quietly been pushing along. The current President-elect however seems to have more than just a mission-reorientation in mind, but has actually proposed a bureaucratic reshuffling that would transfer low earth orbit oriented missions to other departments of the federal government, thus freeing NASA for the longer-term deep space missions. From a purely political and bureaucratic point of view, this would seem to make some sense.

All that is context, in my high octane speculation playbook, for a few other stories that emerged in the last couple of weeks that indicate that something, indeed, may be “up” with space matters. There’s three stories in particular that regular readers here brought to my attention, that I’d like to pass along, together with my usual high octane, or in this case, orbital speculations:

SpaceX wants to launch 4,425 satellites into space to bring super-fast internet to the world

Leaked NASA paper shows the ‘impossible’ EM Drive really does work

Documents/The Artificial Inducement of Space Warp

That’s quite a list, so let’s begin at the first article, and SpaceX’s Elon Musk’s plans to launch over 4,000 satellites to “bring superfast internet to the world.” There are three paragraphs here that draw our attention. According to Arjun Kharpal, author of the CNBN article on Musk’s plans, this plan is presented in a filing with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission):

SpaceX – the company on a mission to colonize Mars – outlined plans to put 4,425 satellites into space in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filing from earlier this week.

That’s three times the 1,419 satellites that are currently in space, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a not-for-profit group made up of scientists across the world.

Once “fully optimized”, the system will be able to provide bandwith of 1 gigabytes per second for users globally. That’s over 180 times faster than the current global internet speed average of 5.6 megabytes per second which was recorded in the Akamai State of the Internet report at the end of last year.

Reports earlier this year suggested Google and Fidelity had invested $1 billion into SpaceX to support the satellite project.

As noted, Musk has presented formal filings to the FCC, and has heavyweight backers in the form of Google and Fidelity for high-speed internet development. The question is why? Here I find myself in agreement with former HUD Assistant Secretary Catherine Fitts, in that this built out is in part a massive project designed to preserve US dollar reserve currency status, and this project can be, and I strongly suspect is enhanced by the offer of rebates on internet devices, smart phones, and so on, denominated in dollars. There is, however, a deeper agenda here, and I suspect most regular readers here already see what it is: such a massive build-out also implies building massive redundancy into the international financial clearing systems, which are currently rather centralized, and hence, easily targetable, as much of that system currently flows through SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transfer) in Belgium, and CHIPS (Clearing House Interbank Payments System). Decentralizing such systems, using other database management systems, builds a measure of security into the clearing system that is much needed, especially against potential threats. The question is, why now? Why the push to globalize such systems and to build in redundancy? The short answer is, such moves are only undertaken when long term strategic planning indicates potential conflict on the horizon. Here the question is, with whom?

I suggest the answer is suggested from the space context itself, which brings us to the recent announcements concerning NASA’s tests of the EM drive, which produces thrust from microwave reflections and interferometry within a shaped, conical cavity. While I’ve blogged about this story before, I want to draw the readers’ attention to something very interesting that appeared in the second article linked above, by Fiona MacDonald; first, note the numbers:

Last year, NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratory got involved to try to independently verify or debunk the EM Drive once and for all. And a new paper on its tests in late 2015 has just been leaked, showing that not only does the EM Drive work – it also generates some pretty impressive thrust.

To be clear, despite rumours that a NASA paper on these tests has passed the peer-review process, the version that’s been leaked hasn’t been published in an academic journal. So, for now, this is just one group of researchers reporting on their results, without any external verification.

But the paper concludes that, after error measurements have been accounted for, the EM Drive generates force of 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt in a vacuum.

That’s not an insignificant amount – to put it into perspective, the super-powerful Hall thruster generates force of 60 millinewtons per kilowatt, an order of magnitude more than the EM Drive.

But that’s not what caught my eye. What caught my eye were these statements:

“The test campaign included a null thrust test effort to identify any mundane sources of impulsive thrust, however none were identified,” the team, led by Harold White, concluded in the paper.

“Thrust data from forward, reverse, and null suggests that the system is consistently performing with a thrust to power ratio of 1.2 ± 0.1 millinewtons per kilowatt.”(Emphasis added)

Yes, you read that correctly, the NASA team testing the EM drive and performing these tests was led by Dr. Harold White, that’s Dr. Harold “Sonny” White, of NASA’s warp drive project fame. Readers here will recall my previous blogs about Dr. White, for it was Dr. White who, by reworking the metric of Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre’s 1990s warp drive paper, came up with the breathtaking conclusion that the vast mass-energy conversion needed in Alcubierre’s paper – a mass-energy conversion factor on the scale of the planet Jupiter, and hence impractical as a potential human technology – was far too large, and that the actual mass-energy conversion factor was much smaller, and conceivably within reach to human science in, say, a hundred years or so. It was because of Dr. White’s reworking of that paper that DARPA came out with its 100 year warp drive goal in the first place, and additionally, that NASA placed White in charge of designing the initial proof of concept experiments for his re-working of Alcubierre’s metric. All this places his participation in the EM drive tests into a different light, for what is being suggested is that the EM drive may have some very minor space-warping properties. Now, this isn’t a big surprise to those of us who have been following the work of the late Gabriel Kron, the Hungarian electronics engineering genius who first told us that all electrical devices, no matter how simple, can be derived from the generalized equations of electromagnetism by specific applications of tensor calculus and hyper-dimensional operators. In essence, what Kron was saying was that all devices of an electric nature are both hyper-dimensional, and produce minute modifications of the lattice of space-time. In short, space warps.

Which brings us to the… oh, by the way, did you notice the date of Ms. MacDonald’s article? Nov. 7, 2016, a day before the US general election, which has given us a President-elect who’s talking about deep solar system manned explorations, and oh, who, by the way, had an uncle who was a Professor at MIT, John Trump, who according to some internet stories was tasked with looking at the late papers of Nikola Tesla…. Talk about things that make you go “Hmmmm….” At the minimum, the presence of this particular technologically-inclined Trump in the stump of the Trump tree means that the current President-elect, unlike almost all previous presidents, may have a unique family insight into technological history, and perhaps even into some very secretive aspects of it, a definite advantage over his predecessors.

Which brings us to the third article about a small “start up” company in Nebraska that has been doing simple warp-field tests, using (here it comes) interferometry, electrical tri-poles, and measurement by laser red-shift effects. You’ll note that the context here is Einstein’s general relativity, and this requires some basic explanation. In the theory of General Relativity, large masses such as stars or planets literally “warp” the lattice structure of space time, in a fashion similar to placing a large bowling ball or medical ball on a trampoline that one has drawn a grid work of squares on. Placing the ball on the trampoline compresses that lattice work by appearing to stretch it in the region immediately surrounding the ball. This is of course a two dimensional representation, so one has to imagine an infinite series of such planes each in touch with a point on the ball, and you get the idea. The trouble is, in General Relativity, it can work in both directions: a large mass can distort that local lattice work, or a distorted local lattice work can create the effect of the presence of a large mass, i.e., gravity. What’s interesting here is that physicists appear to be discovering, through careful manipulation of such effects electromagnetically, which physicists, including Einstein, long suspected, namely, that there’s some relationship between gravity and electromagnetism. What I find intriguing about these experiments is twofold: First…

Continue Reading At: GizaDeathStar.com
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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”.

Luxembourg, Asteroid Mining & An Emerging Pattern?

SpaceMining
Source: GizaDeathStar.com
Dr. Joseph P. Farrell
February 9, 2016

This one fascinated me because it contains so much fertile ground for some really high octane speculation about a possible pattern that might be revealing itself(and I want to thank Mr. M.H. and many others for bringing this significant story to my attention)

Luxembourg Aims to Jump-Start Asteroid Mining

For me, the hints of a possible “future pattern” for space commercialization are to be found in the first five paragraphs:

The Luxembourg government on Feb. 3 announced it would seek to jump-start an industrial sector to mine asteroid resources in space by creating regulatory and financial incentives.

The incentives include co-investment in research and development and, eventually, direct capital investment in space resource-mining companies setting up shop in Luxembourg.

Announced by Vice Prime Minister Etienne Schneider, who is also the nation’s economics minister, the initiative has already lured U.S.-based Deep Space Industries of Mountain View, California, to create a Luxembourg subsidiary. Schneider said other U.S. companies, including SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, and Planetary Resources of Redmond, Washington, are in talks with Luxembourg authorities regarding the Spaceresources.lu venture.

Luxembourg is home to satellite fleet operator SES, whose ascension from outsider-startup status in the 1980s to today’s place as one of the two largest commercial fleet operators by revenue Schneider cited an example of what is possible when Luxembourg sets its mind to something.

Continue Reading At: GizaDeathStar.com