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.
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.
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.
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...
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
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.
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.
Last week was hard for the commercial Space industry. An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket headed to the International Space Station exploded shortly after launch. Then Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two, the first craft built specifically for space tourism, crashed in the desert after firing its main rocket engine, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot. What followed was a media flurry surrounding the "deep uncertainty" of the commercial space industry, and this article explaining why Virgin Galactic is a apparently a waste of time. So...listen up people.
Space exploration is one of the most important endeavors our civilization will undertake. If we are unable to extend our reach into the solar system (and beyond), then humanity is destined for extinction. If humanity cannot develop a method to reliably track and redirect asteroids, we will go extinct. If we find a way not to destroy this planet we call home, and we decide to simply enjoy our time here, we will go extinct. Earth has an expiration date. Yes, it is (hopefully) true that that date is very, very far into the future, but it is a date regardless. Ultimately we need that time to develop the technologies that will allow us to meet the insanely difficult challenge we are up against. But we have to get started today, and we must keep moving forward, forever. This is one movement that cannot end. It is the only way to ensure the continuation of our species. The hoard of billionaires investing in space exploration are not doing it because it is some hobby, as the media likes to claim. They do it because they view the world on a longer horizon than only their short lives. They see a civilization with a much greater destiny.
Virgin Galactic's goal is to commercialize space travel through selling tickets to wealthy individuals. This is very similar to Space Adventures, founded by Eric Anderson in 1998, which helps coordinate visits to the ISS by private citizens. Space Adventures still operates today and Eric Anderson has gone on to co-found Planetary Resources, one of the first private space mining ventures. Saying that commercial space travel should not involve the sale of tickets to wealthy individuals is one of the most short-sighted statements you can make. ANY activity that creates a sustainable business around space travel of any kind is worthwhile. Why? Do you really think Virgin Galactic has the ultimate goal of "being a roller-coaster ride for the rich and famous"? Of course not. That is the same as saying SpaceX's ultimate goal is to put a plant on mars. It is not the goal, it is just the beginning of a much greater journey. The hard part about commercial space activity is developing a business case around something that is incredibly expensive, dangerous, and difficult. We are just now beginning to understand what these industries are and how they will generate a profit for investors. Virgin Galactic focuses on selling tickets to wealthy individuals because this is the path of least resistance. It is a great place to start, and this is no less noble than the other commercial space endeavors currently underway. Space-capitalism works just like terrestrial-capitalism. You must start somewhere. Space tourism will play an important role in the commercial space economy for the simple fact that it will be one (of many) economic drivers that enables future space exploration technology. Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic will continue to push the envelope to make the impossible...possible. Having a rocketplane in humanity's technological arsenal is a good idea, regardless of how we get there and how it is funded.
Space exploration creates incredible business opportunities both here at home and in deep space. History has proven that frontiers and exploration generate waves of technological advancement. The American western expansion was followed by the greatest explosion in innovation the world had ever seen. In a short 100 years after this frontier was closed,we saw the electrification of cities, telephones and radios were released, and aviation grew from the Wright Brothers to the safe commercial airline travel. We saw the introduction of interplanetary spacecraft, antibiotics, computers, television and nuclear power. A frontier is a core component of human advancement. Unfortunately, there are no terrestrial frontiers left on this planet, we have colonized the majority of the planet. Looking to history again, we know that civilizations without frontiers fall into stagnation, decline and resource wars. This idea lies at the very heart of commercial space exploration. Having a lofty goal and an unexplored place to expand into is the deepest driver of innovation that exists. Along the way, we will develop new technologies that will enrich humanity on a day-to-day basis. We will set the bar higher than we ever have, and we will find incredible business opportunities along the way. Just look at the moon race, the number of technological spin-offs that resulted from the program is staggering. If a technology is cordless, fireproof, automated, or lightweight and strong, there is a good chance it was born at NASA.
So tuck yourself in, this is going to be a long journey. The commercial space industry is here to stay. It is led and staffed by people who want to leave a mark on civilization itself and literally reach for the stars. They will not back down due to failures, and we cannot let them. To ensure the survival of our species, we must press on.
Asteroid mining is a real profession now. Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are actual companies, staffed with real engineers, and backed by some incredibly wealthy individuals. The ultimate goal of these new commercial space startups is to enable the delivery of raw materials and water, sourced from asteroids, to earth orbit. This will open the door to space-based construction projects such as orbital solar arrays, fueling depots, and interplanetary spacecraft that will never touch the surface of the Earth. It turns out that exporting just about anything out of Earth's gravity well is VERY expensive. So if we want to truly open the next Frontier (and we do) then we will have to start where every explorer before us has...by searching for valuable resources. Check out this infographic that shows what we will be searching for.