FUELSPACE

FuelSpace is a blog focusing on the emerging commercial space economy, space exploration, energy production, technology and innovation. We also cover the skills that enable great achievements in these areas including sales and persuasion, productivity, self-discipline, and leadership.

Foundations of a Spacefaring Civilization, Part III: Investment, Setback, and Focus

There was a time when space exploration was the sole domain of government agencies. Over the past few years we have seen an explosion in commercial space firms with SpaceX leading the charge into this exciting new era, often referred to as "New Space". The time of government-only space activity is now behind us, and foundation of the commercial space industry is securely in place. Last year NASA asserted their newly minted role of customer and dolled out the massive $6.8 billion Commercial Crew Transportation Contract with $2.6 billion going to SpaceX for the development of the Dragon spacecraft and $4.2 billion going to Boeing for further development of the CST-100 crew transport capsule, a slightly larger version of Boeing's Orion spacecraft. Last year ended with the spectacular inaugural mission of the Orion, which was lifted to orbit by a Delta IV heavy rocket on December 5. Orion successfully tested a variety of capabilities in this first mission including basic spaceflight, re-entry, and recovery.  

A Delta IV Heavy rocket thunders into orbit from the Space Launch Complex 37B carrying the very first Orion spacecraft into orbit. Image Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA Video Credit: Spacevids.tv

The SpaceX Dragon V2.  SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 billion contract to develop the spacecraft to full human-rated capacity.  Image Credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX Dragon V2.  SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 billion contract to develop the spacecraft to full human-rated capacity.  Image Credit: SpaceX

The Orion space capsule being recovered after its inaugural flight in December 5, 2014.  Image Credit: NASA

The Orion space capsule being recovered after its inaugural flight in December 5, 2014.  Image Credit: NASA

This was followed on December 23rd by the announcement that NASA had selected four US firms to participate in the Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities (CCSC) program, which is aimed at leveraging NASA's experience and expertise to expand the private sector space development. These programs are just the beginning of a new space paradigm - one in which the private sector and the government work together to drive our space capabilities forward.  Check out the illustration below showing NASA's evolution road-map to Mars. 

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

Investment, Setback and Focus

The space business is not place for short-term day traders and trend-hounds. It is a long term play that requires great vision and persistence. It requires leaders and visionaries who understand the importance of this endeavor, and also its potential rewards. 2014 marked a historic year for investment in space programs. According to the Space Angels Network, 2014 was the third year in a row private space companies saw increased funding from the investment community. This included launch providers, satellites, space resource applications and human spaceflight endeavors. Google dove into the space business with the $500 million acquisition of Skybox, a space-based imaging and insight provider. They followed this up in early 2015 by announcing they would invest $1 billion in SpaceX to support the development of a massive network of low-cost satellites which will deliver internet to the entire planet. NASA leased the historic Moffett Field Hangar to SpaceX subsidiary Planetary Ventures for 60 years for $ 1 billion. Space-based hyperspectral imaging is also moving forward. This is a "folding" technology that allows long term space ventures to develop technology for their own goals and then fold them down to existing business sectors here on Earth. Hyperspectral imaging technology will be used by Planetary Resources to prospect for valuable asteroid resources in deep space. Here on Earth, this same technology will be used for agricultural monitoring, energy and mineral exploration, as well as military and civil government applications. Hyperspectral imaging start-up HySpecIQ awarded a contract to Boeing to develop the company's first earth observation satellites based on the Boeing 502 Phoenix platform. On the Space Agency side, we saw the 2015 NASA budget set to $18 billion. This includes $549 million more than what was requested by President Obama, indicating support for Space Exploration across the isles. The Chinese have their sights set firmly on the moon, while Russia announced a staggering $52 billion investment in their space program, including a possible Russian space station which could rival the International Space Station (ISS).  When we look at the combined government and private investments now coming online, you can quickly see why space is going to be a trillion dollar industry.  

Space is not a forgiving place. There will always be setbacks and failures in the space industry, and 2014 was no exception. The Orbital Science Corporation Antares Rocket carrying supplies to the ISS exploded shortly after liftoff on October 28, 2014.  Later that same week the Virgin Galactic Spaceship 2 crashed killing one of the test pilots. We were instantly reminded that space travel is not easy, it is the hardest thing we can do, and yet therein lies its importance. We must continue to move forward if we are going to insure the survival of our species. After the disasters, Orbital Sciences announced they would turn to the United Launch Alliance and the Atlas V rocket to ensure the completion of their future ISS deliveries and Richard Branson reaffirmed he would push forward with Virgin Galactic even after the crash.  

All of these developments are part of our journey out into space. Small steps forward amassed over decades are what will take humanity to the stars. Triumphs and tragedy leads to focus, and we are finally beginning to focus on the big problems that must be solved in order for us to take our next evolutionary leap. The dream ignited by the race to the moon is rising again in the public consciousness. The new space industry is driven by discovery and exploration, supported by government, and rooted in sound business plans searching for resources and riches. We are developing the engine that will drive us into the solar system. This engine has many components: investment, engineering, education, competition, capitalism, combined with the thirst for knowledge that makes us who we are. Humanity is finally taking the steps necessary to becoming a spacefaring civilization. 


Foundations of a Spacefaring Civilization, Part II: Space Mining & Orbital Manufacturing

"Space-mining is getting serious"is not a phrase you may have anticipated hearing in your life. Yet today we actually see headlines like this regularly. It is well understood that in order to become a spacefaring civilization we must utilize the resources of space to enable our expansion into the solar system. We cannot get very far if we launch everything we need from Earth's surface. We must learn to use the vast resources of space to our advantage (aka space mining). In the private sector we saw a flurry of activity last year from both Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, two well-funded space mining firms. Planetary Resources attempted to launch their first demonstration spacecraft, the A3. The A3 is a demonstration platform for the company's Arkyd space telescope. Unfortunately the rocket exploded shortly after lift-off, destroying the A3 prototype. Planetary Resources took the loss in stride and is now moving forward with an even more advanced model known as the A6.  Deep Space Industries established a new partnership with 3D printing experts Solid Prototypes and released plans for their robotic swarm mothership. While we love early phase private space mining ventures, they pale in comparison to actually landing spacecraft on celestial bodies. Which is exactly what the European Space Agency did when they landed the Philae probe on the surface of a comet..for the first time in human history!  Combined with the previous Hayabusa mission from Japanese space agency, this means humans have now landed robotic spacecraft on both an asteroid AND a comet. Not bad for a species that is only a 200,000 years young. For the icing on the cake, we saw major announcements from both Russia and China regarding plans to launch space mining programs in the near future, as well as a new UK based private venture to begin mining the moon. The important thing to remember is this: it is no longer science fiction to discuss business plans for space mining.  We will soon begin developing orbital fueling depots using water mined from asteroids and comets. These are real business concepts now, backed by some of the most competent and wealthy people and nations in world. Hang on to your hats folks, space mining is just around the corner.

A space-mining operation as envisioned by Deep Space Industries.  Image Credit: Deep Space Industries

A space-mining operation as envisioned by Deep Space Industries.  Image Credit: Deep Space Industries

An orbital fueling depot fed by by an asteroid mine.  Awesome Image Credit: Deep Space Industries. 

An orbital fueling depot fed by by an asteroid mine.  Awesome Image Credit: Deep Space Industries. 

The Arkyd Space Telescope is designed to hunt for water and minerals hidden in asteroids in deep space.  Image Credit: Planetary Resources 

The Arkyd Space Telescope is designed to hunt for water and minerals hidden in asteroids in deep space.  Image Credit: Planetary Resources 

Orbital Manufacturing has Begun

If we can land spacecraft on an asteroid or a comet, then we have the foundation to gather and transport raw materials in space. However, we need a way to transform these materials into usable structures, and therein lies the potential of space-based 3D printing. 3D printing is a transformative technology for almost every industry on Earth, but its single greatest impact may be unlocking the potential of the solar system. Once we can print objects in orbit, on the moon, or on an asteroid, then we begin to see a path to large scale space construction projects and a sustainable presence in space. Combine low-gravity and zero gravity printing technology with remotely operated robotics, and we can build almost anything imaginable in space. We saw the first step towards the future of orbital manufacturing in late 2014 when the first low-gravity 3D printer was delivered to the ISS by Made in Space, a private company based in Mountain View, CA. The first object to be manufactured? A replacement printer head for the 3D printer...brilliant.  

The first low-gravity 3D printing system is now fully operational on board the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

The first low-gravity 3D printing system is now fully operational on board the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

3D printing and robotics will be the foundation of all future space construction projects.  Image Credit: Tethers Unlimited

3D printing and robotics will be the foundation of all future space construction projects.  Image Credit: Tethers Unlimited

Next week we will take a look at the business of space and how investments in this industry are reaching unprecedented levels. Subscribe below to have part III sent directly to your inbox

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Foundations of a Spacefaring Civilization, Part I: Rocket Technology

The Deadalus Interstellar Spacecraft. Image Credit: Adrian Mann & Icarus intersellar.org If you do know what this website is...please, please check it out. 

The Deadalus Interstellar Spacecraft. Image Credit: Adrian Mann & Icarus intersellar.org If you do know what this website is...please, please check it out. 

Humanity's journey to become a spacefaring civilization is not a sprint. It is not one giant leap. It is the greatest marathon in history. It requires perseverance and grit. A slow crawl against all odds to fight our way out of Earth's gravity well and gain a foothold in space...and eventually on another world. The cosmos is a truly inhospitable place, and we will need all of our technology and willpower to survive as a species. You will not wake up one day and realize that humans colonized the solar system. This is aspiration unlike any other...one that can only be achieved by stacking experience and technological advancement on top risk-taking, huge investments, and cutting edge engineering. To get there we need to see profitable growth and big returns as private companies forge partnerships with governments to open new markets. State Space agencies must begin rethinking their strategic goals as a the commercial space economy begins to emerge. 2014 was a hallmark year for the space industry -- one filled with both triumphs and tragedy in pursuit of the stars. There were more space launches in 2014 than in any year in the previous two decades. It was a year greater than the sum of its parts, and one that will go down in history as one of the foundation years for our spacefaring civilization. Humanity is finally developing the framework and infrastructure necessary to become make the impossible...possible. Big things are starting to happen and the public and the investment community is becoming engaged in a way we have not seen since the space race of the 20th century. Over the next three weeks, we will show you why you should be so excited. We will start with rockets:

Rocket Technology is Advancing to New Territory

The rocket technology we use today is surprisingly similar to the rockets that were used 40 years ago. This is particularly odd when you consider how much humans love to improve upon useful technology.  Most transportation modes we use today are vastly superior, more reliable, and more cost effective than they were 40 years ago. This was far too long to go without a major breakthrough if we hope to expand into space. Luckily, things are beginning to change. The first area of innovation is in rocket fuel itself. We are beginning to see a shift away from Kerosene based rocket fuel (known as RP-1) and over to liquid methane (also known as liquefied natural gas). We already know that SpaceX's next generation Raptor engine will be fueled by methane and liquid oxygen. This was an obvious choice given SpaceX's focus on Mars. Methane rocket fuel can be sourced from the Martian atmosphere and other areas of our solar system, making it an ideal fuel for a spacefaring civilization. In 2014 we saw the announcement of a surprising partnership between Blue Origin, the space firm run by Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon) and the United Launch Alliance (ULA).  The ULA is the largest and most successful space launch provider in history and an established giant of US defense department and NASA launches. The two companies announced they would jointly develop a new liquid methane rocket engine known as the BE-4, which will power the ULA's Next Generation Launch System (NGLS). This marks the first major fuel shift we have seen in the space industry, hopefully with more innovations just around the corner. 

On the engineering side of the equation, SpaceX is getting very close to one of the greatest achievements in space launch capability. A true game changer. The traditional problem with rockets is they are incredibly expensive and they can only be used once. Therefore the best way to reduce the cost of space launch systems is to re-use the rocket core. This is a simple idea that is incredibly hard to achieve. It is known as the "holy grail of rocketry". If we can create re-usable rocket boosters, we can exponentially lower the cost of launching material to space. This is one of the most basic concepts required to if we are going to expand our reach into the solar system. On January 10, 2014, SpaceX successfully launched an unmanned dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS).  After the deployment of the spacecraft, the rocket booster successfully navigated back to an autonomous drone platform in the Atlantic Ocean where it attempted to land. The rocket did make it to the platform but landed "hard" and was destroyed. This marks one of the first times anyone has successfully controlled a rocket's reentry and navigation back to a platform in the ocean. SpaceX continues their relentless technological forward progress and hopes to successfully land a booster in 2015. Here is how they are going to do it:  

Image Credit: SpaceX and Karl Tate for Space.com

Image Credit: SpaceX and Karl Tate for Space.com

The SpaceX autonomous ocean drone platform Image Credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX autonomous ocean drone platform Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX testing the reusable rocket stage in Texas. Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX testing the reusable rocket stage in Texas. Image Credit: SpaceX

Coming Next week, Part II: Space Mining & Orbital Manufacturing.  Subscribe below to have part II and III delivered to your inbox. 

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Natural Gas Vehicles in Construction & Aggregate Fleets: What You Need to Know

If you are involved in the Construction & Aggregate (ConAgg) industry, it is very likely you have heard of Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs). ConAgg fleets are increasingly turning to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as an alternative to diesel fuel. Natural gas is a clean, abundant fuel that is less costly than petroleum fuels. The popularity of this option arises from a few key advantages, but it is important to understand the challenges of the transition as well. You will see this fuel increasingly more in the mines, on the roads, and delivering concrete to jobs around the country. Here is what you need to know.  

Argos recently took delivery of 40 CNG mixers. Image Credit: Oshkosh Corp.

Argos recently took delivery of 40 CNG mixers. Image Credit: Oshkosh Corp.

1. Natural Gas Will Lower Your Fuel Costs

Natural gas typically offers fuel savings of 40-60% compared to diesel fuel. Economics is the primary driver of this transition. Most ready-mix concrete trucks consume an average of 40 gallons of diesel fuel each day, or around 10,000 gallons annually. With diesel fuel currently averaging around  $3.60 per gallon, fuel savings of 50% yields annual savings of $18,000 for each truck. However, natural gas trucks tend to have lower fuel economy, so we will reduce this figure by 20% to $14,400 as an annual cost savings figure. If you operate a batch plant with 20 ready-trucks running on natural gas, your operation costs will be $288,000 lower than your competition, who is most likely using diesel fuel. If you are running sand & gravel trucks, the economics are even more attractive. Most aggregate trucks use closer to 20,000 gallons of fuel each year. The fuel savings with a fleet of 20 trucks (including the fuel economy hit) jumps all the way to $576,000. So the clear message here is take a close look at your fuel figures when beginning a natural gas evaluation. The more fuel you burn, the more likely it is that you are a good candidate. 

Tractors in the ConAgg industry can easily exceed 20,000 gallons per year in fuel consumption, making them ideal targets for natural gas.  Image Credit: Clean Energy 

Tractors in the ConAgg industry can easily exceed 20,000 gallons per year in fuel consumption, making them ideal targets for natural gas.  Image Credit: Clean Energy 

The final consideration of your cost savings estimate is going to be the incremental truck cost. Natural gas trucks carry an incremental cost between $30,000 - $70,000 depending on fuel storage specifications. The more fuel you carry, the more expensive the truck will be. Costs also vary widely between dealers, so make sure you shop around. It typically takes 2-3 years to recoup this additional investment before you can bank the fuel savings. Increasingly, states are implementing natural gas grant programs to buy-down this incremental cost. Colorado, for example, has up to $42,000 available for the purchase of a heavy duty CNG truck. Texas and Pennsylvania have similar programs. You can find all the incentives by state here. Most fleets are making the shift without truck incentives, but if they are available don't miss out. 

2. Natural Gas Trucks are Typically Heavier

Natural gas trucks often weigh more than diesel units do. We have previously written a detailed outline of the weight story and the difference between CNG and LNG. There are currently two Cummins engines available for concrete mixers and tractors, a 9L and a 12L. The vast majority of fleets opt for the larger, heavier 12L engine. For most applications, this is the right decision. However, you may want to look at the life cycle of the smaller engine as well. The smaller 9L is certainly no powerhouse, but there are numerous mixers in the field using this engine today. Why? Some fleets decide to use the smaller engine due to lower weight, specifically I mean weight that is lower that diesel trucks. A 9L powered mixer can often allow you to add as much as 1/2 yard of concrete to every delivery, which adds up quickly.  So while this engine may be small, if you run on flat terrain it is worth including in your evaluation. Combined with the fuel savings it may be very profitable to use a smaller engine and simply plan for a shorter truck life. 

3. You Will Need New Fueling Stations

A GE compression system located at a batch plant. Image Credit: GE Energy

A GE compression system located at a batch plant. Image Credit: GE Energy

Most fleets will require new fueling infrastructure at batch plants or along regular delivery routes. Fueling stations have continued to come down in cost the past few years, and now range from $500,000 to $1.2 million depending on size. You can certainly purchase and own a new fueling station, but most fuel providers are also willing to invest the capital for the station in return for fueling agreements. Low interest operating leases are also becoming common if you prefer a simply monthly payment for your station. You can also investigate public access stations in your operational areas that can accommodate heavy duty trucks. Natural gas is primarily a heavy-duty fuel and more and more truck stops are offering natural gas. You can research them here

An overnight fueling station developed for MMC. Image Credit: Concrete Products

An overnight fueling station developed for MMC. Image Credit: Concrete Products

There are numerous on-site fueling technologies that are well suited to the ConAgg industry. Vehicles can be fueled quickly (fast-fill) or overnight (time-fill) -- we previously posted a description of CNG station options and how to get started on an evaluation. The NGV fueling industry has developed mobile stations as well as small modular stations that are a great fit for batch plant operations. There is a lot of information available on the station side, so I recommend you start by meeting with local fueling station providers such as Clean Energy, Trillium, and TruStar. Station providers can provide a host of other important services as well, such as bulk commodity buying, station operations and maintenance, extended warranties, safety plans, and even royalties for selling fuel to third parties on your property. 

4. You Can Use Natural Gas Programs to Improve Sustainability and Win Business

Natural gas is a very clean fuel that produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than diesel fuel . If you are seeking to improve your sustainability program, natural gas can help. Most natural gas programs are based on fossil fuel, but you can also run your trucks on Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). RNG is biogas harvested from landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and dairy farms. The gas is cleaned and re-injected into the pipelines where it can be nominated to any fleet or fueling operation around the country. This will generate Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) nationwide and Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credits if you are in California.  Both of these credits can potentially be monetized in different ways. Most importantly, if you are bidding on concrete jobs for LEED buildings or "green" construction projects, you can use CNG, LNG or RNG to increase you sustainability scores and help you win the deal. 

5. This is the Just the Beginning

Caterpillar recently introduced an LNG option for the 793,795, and 797 hauling trucks. Image Credit: Caterpillar

Caterpillar recently introduced an LNG option for the 793,795, and 797 hauling trucks. Image Credit: Caterpillar

If you think natural gas fueling is limited to trucks, think again. If an engine is big...it's going natural gas. This is the beginning of a VERY large fuel transition that is much broader than on-road vehicles. Caterpillar is already rolling out a variety of LNG systems for yellow iron in coal mines. They are starting with the largest units and working their way down in size. Many quarries and mines rely on rail to move their product to market. The first rail cars running on CNG and LNG are now on the tracks with the backing of GE, BNSF and Union Pacific. Future station programs will involve fueling yellow iron in the pits, railcars in one lane, and delivery trucks in the next.  

One final consideration that is now gaining traction is natural gas as an alternative for remote asphalt plants. Most of these plants are running on waste oil or diesel fuel, but they often come equipped to run on natural gas as well.  Both CNG and LNG can be trucked to remote or short term locations at a substantial savings. If you regularly see $500,000 fuel bills to run your asphalt plants, you may want to consider natural gas. New business operators, such as NGAdvantage, have developed CNG solutions targeted specifically at asphalt plants. Traditional LNG operators can compete for this business as well. 

NG Advantage can help you maximize profits by delivering CNG to remote plant locations. Image Credit: NGAdvantage

NG Advantage can help you maximize profits by delivering CNG to remote plant locations. Image Credit: NGAdvantage

The ConAgg inudstry is quickly transitioning to this new fuel. Don't make the mistake of ignoring an important change that can add profit to your bottom line. ConAgg is a highly competitive business where small differences can have a huge impact.  Don't allow yourself to lose business because competitors are bidding jobs at a lower cost due and marketing themselves as a green operator. Take action. Get educated, determine where natural gas might fit in your operation, and get moving on your first project. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have on implementing natural gas fleet programs. 

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Infographic: How Often is Earth Struck by Asteroids?

Do you think asteroid impacts here on Earth are a rare occasion?  Think again. Check out this newly released infographic from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near-Earth Object Program Office. More details can be found here

Earth is being machine gunned by asteroid impacts all the time. Bolide Event Map from NASA/JPL Nearth-Earth Object Program Office. 

Earth is being machine gunned by asteroid impacts all the time. Bolide Event Map from NASA/JPL Nearth-Earth Object Program Office. 

European Space Agency Makes History: Lands Spacecraft on Comet

In an incredible feat involving decades of engineering, the European Space Agency (ESA) made history today by landing a spacecraft on a comet for the first time. The Rosetta space probe left Earth on an Ariane 5 rocket on March 2, 2004 and spent the next decade sling shotting around the solar system picking up speed using the gravity of planets and asteroids.

The European Space Agency Rosetta Spacecraft.  Image Credit: European Space Agency and Wikimedia Commons

The European Space Agency Rosetta Spacecraft.  Image Credit: European Space Agency and Wikimedia Commons

After a 31-month hybernation, Rosetta was awakened by her controllers on Earth to begin her primary mission: rendezvous with a comet. On August 6, 2014 Rosetta finally arrived at her destination...

The Rosetta spacecraft snapped this space selfie upon arrival last August. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Rosetta spacecraft snapped this space selfie upon arrival last August. Image Credit: European Space Agency

Rosetta's destination is known as comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. An enormous ball of rock and ice hurtling through space at more than 83,000 miles per hour (135,000 km per hour). How big is this sucker? In space, size is relative and can be difficult to judge. So here is a picture of the comet sitting on Los Angeles to give you a sense of scale

Rosetta's destination: 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Image Credit: European Space Agency 

Rosetta's destination: 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Image Credit: European Space Agency 

Image Credit: Matt Wang, Flickr: anosmicovni. European Space Agency. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Relative to Downtown Los Angeles

Image Credit: Matt Wang, Flickr: anosmicovni. European Space Agency. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Relative to Downtown Los Angeles

Upon arrival, Rosetta began orbiting the comet and collecting data to aid in the most difficult part of the mission -- landing its scientific payload on the surface of the comet. The lander, named Philae, is designed to study the comet's nucleus, composition, and activity level. After sifting through five possible landing sites, the ESA gave the all clear to proceed with separation of Rosetta and Philae. On November 12, 2014 the Philae descended to the comet and attempted to fire a harpoon system to attach to the surface. The harpoon failed,  and the lander ultimately "bounced" on the surface several times before finally coming to a complete stop.   

The Philae lander descends to the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Philae lander descends to the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Philae lander resting on the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

The Philae lander resting on the comet's surface. Image Credit: European Space Agency

This marks the first time in history humanity has successfully landed a spacecraft on a comet. This feat comes only a few years after the first landing of a spacecraft on asteroid, which was achieved by the Hayabusa spacecraft and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in November of 2005. Apparently November is a good month to land on a celestial body! Comets are distinctly different from Asteroids in that they are made up of ice, dust and rocky material as opposed to the metallic makeup of most asteroids. Comets typically form far from the sun where their water stays frozen as ice. As they approach the sun with their elongated and extended orbits, the ice begins to vaporize and give comets their distinctive "tails". We will continue to post new photos and details from the mission as the Philae begins its science mission. Congratulations to the ESA on this amazing technological achievement! 

NOVEMBER 17, 2014 UPDATE: After landing on the surface of the comet, Philae completed its science mission and returned data to the nearby Rosetta craft. However, it has been determined that Philae landed in the shade of a large cliff that may potentially block the solar energy necessary for Philae to continue. As of this writing, Philae had gone into hibernation mode in the hopes that as the comet approaches the sun, Philae may possibly be re-activated. Below is the first image ever taken from the surface of a comet!

The first image ever taken from the surface of a comet.  Image Credit: European Space Agency.