- establishing an initial infrastructure on the Moon -


We know quite a bit about asteroids including the near Earth asteroids (NEAs) that require relatively little energy to bring them into the Earth-Moon system. These asteroids could provide large quantities of water, metals, precious metals, carbon, and rocky material for shielding free-space habitats. Asteroids would be of little value to a lunar or Martian settlement because the known resources on the Moon and Mars are immediately available there and require minimal energy to transport them to the habitats. Water in for propellant is widely recognized as the first resources of value from asteroids.

The two large asteroid companies that got started a few years back have largely become inactive. Apparently the timing of that market isn't right and few are even attempting to develop asteroid mining with no specific dates being set. The Space Development Network believes that asteroid mining has intermediate-term potential to provide propellant for missions to Mars but even the leading Mars transport company (SpaceX) plans on going to Mars without needing propellant from either the asteroids or the Moon. Asteroids also have long-term potential to provide material for establishing free space settlement but again, it seems as though there is no specific dates of when this might happen. For these reasons, the Space Development Network is focused upon lunar settlement given the specific, near-term dates for the establishment of lunar surface infrastructure which could well lead to settlement.

A problem with asteroid mining is that, unlike the Moon with its three-second, speed of light time delay, NEAs tend to have a 10 minute or so time delay. So teleoperations on asteroids is problematic. However there is a proposed, automated approach that seems reasonable. A company called TransAstra is proposing an asteroid mining solution in which spacecraft would approach NEAs while far from the Earth, bag them, and then use concentrated sunlight to hit the NEA in the bag thereby vaporizing it resulting in the release of water vapor. When complete, the craft could then use either ion propulsion or the water itself to bring back the water into the Earth Moon system. Using such a bag-and-grab approach, other materials such as metals and carbon could also be brought back to the Earth Moon system. The Space Development Network believes that there is real potential with the approach as the in-space markets for these materials eventually develops. But for the time being, it seems as though utilizing the resources on the surface of the Moon for a lunar base and settlement will be the initial location where in-space resources will be utilized -- hence, the focus of this website.

Optical mining of asteroids offers some intermediate to long-term potential.

Next: Lunar COTS