An exciting program of human exploration beyond LEO might include an outpost at the top of the Earth-Moon gravity well or on the surface of the Moon; human exploration of Near Earth Objects in their natural orbits; and/or a series of human missions to the Mars system. Water, oxygen, propellant, and shielding can be made in space from resources known to be plentifully available in asteroids and probably in the Martian moon Deimos. Optical Mining technology is a breakthrough approach to harvesting these materials from asteroids, boulders, and regolith in microgravity. In Optical Mining, excavating and processing asteroid materials is accomplished by highly concentrated sunlight which they have shown can be used to drill holes, excavate, disrupt, and shape an asteroid while the asteroid is enclosed in a containment bag.
Optical Mining of Asteroids, Moons, and Planets to Enable Sustainable Human Exploration and Space Industrialization Credits: Joel Sercel
Phase 1 work demonstrated Optical Mining in the laboratory and performed mission and systems analysis of the application of Optical Mining to human exploration missions. Their mission analysis showed that the most accessible Near Earth Objects (NEOs) can be used to provide NASA with mission consumables for human exploration in deep space with the potential of saving up to $10 billion per year or $150 billion over the 15 year operational life cycle of a human exploration program. This savings alone would be enough to transform NASA’s vision of human exploration from being unaffordable to being affordable within budgets that Congress can approve. Phase 1 technical work included a full scale (8 kW) Optical Mining demonstration using a high fidelity CI-type asteroid simulant in vacuum using sunlight from a 10 meter diameter solar concentrator without mechanical contact or downforce. This work confirmed our physics based mathematical model of the excavation and volatile extraction process and scalability of results from 36 prior, small scale (≈ 1 cm diameter) demonstrations and tests.
Phase 2 work will complete mission and system analysis of the application of Optical Mining to an exciting program of human exploration and we will mature the technology of Optical Mining to the point at which NASA can baseline this approach for an affordable program of human exploration. Our mission studies will address the production via Optical Mining missions to extract and retrieve resources, consumable processing, storage, and application of consumables to human exploration mission in cislunar, NEO and Martian space. The mission studies will be tightly coupled with our laboratory work. Laboratory work will include the development and integration of a 30 kW Optical Mining test apparatus in our laboratory and integration with our high quality vacuum chamber for a test program involving Optical Mining.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.