from the we've-made-a-mess-here,-lets-go-to-space dept.
Submitted via IRC for RandomFactor
Back in April, NASA once again put out the call for proposals for the next generation of robotic explorers and missions. As part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, this consisted of researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs coming together to submit early studies of new concepts that could one-day help advance NASA's space exploration goals.
One concept that was selected for Phase III of development was a breakthrough mission and flight system called Mini Bee. This small, robotic mining craft was designed by the Trans Astronautica (TransAstra) Corporation to assist with deep-space missions. It is hoped that by leveraging this flight system architecture, the Mini-bee will enable the full-scale industrialization of space as well as human settlement.
The Mini-bee concept is essentially a technology-demonstrator for a family of flight system architectures known as Asteroid Provided In-situ Supplies (Apis). These systems range in size from the experimental Mini Bee (which weighs 250 kg or 550 lbs) to the larger Honey Bee and Queen Bee – which would be capable of capturing asteroids measuring 10 and 40 m (33 and 130 ft) in diameter, respectively.
The Mini Bee utilizes a series of innovative technologies, which includes optical mining method of resource harvesting (aka. laser mining), a spacecraft architecture that relies on sunlight to enable faster spacecraft, and an asteroid containment system similar to the one that was proposed for NASA's now-scrapped Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).
Further Reading: NASA, TransAstra Corporation
Étienne Schneider, deputy prime minister of Luxembourg, frequently tells the story of how he got interested in building a space resources industry in the country. His efforts to diversify the country's economy several years ago led to a meeting with Pete Worden, at the time the director of NASA's Ames Research Center and a proponent of many far-reaching space concepts. During an Oct. 22 panel discussion at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington, he recalled Worden advocating for commercial space: "Why shouldn't you go for space mining activities?"
"When he explained all this to me, I thought two things," Schneider said. "First of all, what did the guy smoke before coming into the office? And second, how do I get him out of here?"
He eventually bought into Worden's vision, starting a space resources initiative that attracted companies to the country while enacting a space resources law like that in the United States. By the beginning of 2019, though, it looked like it might all be a bad trip. The two major startups in that industry, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, had been acquired by other companies with no interest in space resources. Worse, the Planetary Resources deal wiped out an investment of 12 million euros Luxembourg made in the startup.
Schneider is undaunted by those setbacks as he continues work to make Luxembourg a hotbed of entrepreneurial space, a scope that has expanded beyond, but has not abandoned, space resources. During the IAC, the country's year-old space agency signed an agreement with NASA to explore potential cooperation, building on an agreement Luxembourg signed with the U.S. Commerce Department in May. Just before the conference, Luxembourg announced it would partner with the European Space Agency on a space resources center in the country.
The article includes an interview with Schneider.
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