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Space roadmap unlocks future growth opportunities for Australia

Space: A Roadmap for unlocking future growth opportunities for Australia, was launched by the Hon Karen Andrews MP at the 18th Australian Space Research Conference on the Gold Coast, held on September 24-26, 2018.

Australian space industries already contribute $3.9 billion a year to the economy and  the business opportunities and jobs growth potential is significant, said Minister Andrews.

Once dominated by billion-dollar government programs, the industry landscape of global space activity and space exploration is now composed of SMEs which provide an array of technology and services. “The benefits from a growing space industry are very local”, said Minister Andrews, highlighting Gold Coast rocket business Gilmour Space Technologies and Opaque Space, a Melbourne-based VR company  working with NASA on an astronaut training simulator.

“We have what it takes to gain a greater share of the market and build a new industry for our nation.”

The industry roadmap report was developed by CSIRO Futures, the strategy advisory arm of Australia’s national space agency. It highlights three key areas for potential development: space exploration and utilisation, space-derived services and space object tracking.  

  1.    The reports recommends that Australia leverage our nation’s industrial and research strengths across astronomy, mining, manufacturing, medicine, agriculture and robotics, and apply these skills to support robotic and human space exploration missions. This will include the development of innovative systems for long-term settlement in space, including habitation and life support.
  2.    Earth observation technology, including satellite communications and positioning, navigation and timing data, can aid in developing businesses which address disaster and water management.
  3.    Australia can take advantage of our geographic position in the Southern Hemisphere to further our work with international programs to track and manage space debris and enable deep space communication.

Key technologies to focus on include power and propulsion systems, autonomous systems and robotics to make missions safer, habitat and life support (including food, protective clothing and housing) and in-situ resource utilisation. The report also emphasises the broader benefits of growing the Australian space industry, as a valuable source of innovation for Earth-based industries, such as communications, agriculture, mining and transport.  

The Australian Space Agency (ACA) was established by the Government with the mandate to triple the size of our domestic space industry up to $12 billion by 2030 and generate 20,000 new jobs.

“Our purpose is to transform and grow a globally respected Australian space industry that inspires Australia”, said Dr Megan Clark AC, the head of the ACA.

Dr Larry Marshall, CSIRO Chief Executive, said that he looks forward to the partnership opening up Australian markets, improving productivity, creating new jobs, and securing our STEM talent pipeline into the future. “We are here to help Australia secure our footprint in the space ecosystem,” he said.

In 2017, CSIRO secured access to one of the world’s most advanced high-performance satellites, the NovaSAR satellite. The Satellite was launched on 17 September 2018 and the CSIRO holds a 10% share of tasking and acquisition time over the next seven years. This gives Australian scientists control over the satellite’s data collection over our region and will extend Australian Earth Observation capabilities.

A selection of the research projects associated with NovaSaR include disaster identification and monitoring, improved infrastructure and agriculture mapping, biomass monitoring, flood risk assessment and detection of illegal deforestation and shipping activities.

“A new space agency is not just about industry. It is about creating aspirations about exploring the universe,” said Minister Andrews. “Our space agency will help promote opportunities for our young people and give them the chance to aspire to something they many not even have thought about…Growing our space industry is about growing our future prosperity as a nation.”

– Larissa Fedunik

Off-earth mining

Mining the skies

Just three kilometres in diameter, asteroid 1986DA is a fairly tiny affair by astronomical standards. Yet it contains astonishing wealth. Using radar, astronomers have discovered 1986DA is mainly made up of iron and nickel.

“Essentially, it is a ball of naturally occurring stainless steel,” says Serkan Saydam, a UNSW expert on the mining of off-Earth objects.

Asteroid 1986DA is also estimated to contain more than 10,000 tonnes of gold and 100,000 tonnes of platinum.

The prospect of such mineral riches excites some entrepreneurs. These visionaries picture a fleet of robot spaceships crossing the Solar System to mine its interplanetary resources. This would also open worlds like the Moon and Mars to human colonisation.

With its vast mining experience, Australia is keen to ensure it is in the vanguard of these operations. Hence the appointment of Saydam as an associate professor of mining at UNSW, where he is putting together a small team of off-Earth mining experts. The work of Saydam’s honours student Georgia Craig on asteroid 1986DA highlights the importance of the careful planning that will be needed in future – and the problems that lie ahead.

Named after the year in which it was discovered, asteroid 1986DA orbits the Sun 75 million kilometres from Earth and is rated by the International Astronomical Union as a Near Earth Object, or NEO. But calculations by Saydam show that 1986DA is still too remote to be mined economically. On the other hand, his research suggests that if the asteroid were half its current distance from Earth, it could be viable to exploit.

That is good news because there are about two million other near-Earth asteroids orbiting the Sun. If we can find a better-placed candidate, it could become a target for mining operations. Hence the activities of companies like Planetary Resources (see ‘Frontier horizon’, above) which is preparing to carry out detailed surveys of NEOs to find one best suited for mining operations.

Asteroids like 1986DA are not the only targets for future missions. Other types of asteroids contain far less mineral wealth, but much more water. That could be crucial, says Saydam. “Water will be our prime source of fuel in space, and finding sources will be a priority. Hydrolysis of water produces hydrogen and oxygen, which can be burned together as fuel, and used in space shuttles and/or satellites. To put it bluntly: water is going to be the currency of space.”

Worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa, which has a vast ocean below its frozen surface, and Saturn’s tiny Enceladus, which vents water into space, would be good targets but are too remote.

“We will have to find water much nearer to home, and given that we have to start somewhere, Mars is the logical place to begin our hunt for water on another world,” says Sophia Casanova, a geologist and PhD candidate who is now studying off-Earth mining at UNSW. “Finding and extracting water will be crucial for setting up colonies there.”

The trouble is that, while the poles of Mars have ice, they are too cold and inhospitable to provide homes for early colonists. By contrast, Mars’s equatorial region is warmer and more amenable but lacks water – at least on the surface. “That means we will have to seek it underground,” says Casanova, whose research is now focused on finding ways to pinpoint rich deposits of clays and hydrate deposits at lower latitudes on Mars. “There could be some kind of artesian wells, but we have no evidence of their existence as yet. So we will probably have to use hydrate minerals.”

But how can we extract water from rocks? Casanova explains: “You could put your minerals in a chamber and heat them to extract the water. Alternatively, you could use microwave generators that heat the underground to break up the rocks and release the water that way.”

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Saydam’s team has developed models to evaluate multiple off-Earth mining scenarios.

Another practical problem concerns the use of seismic detectors. On Earth, a charge is set off and seismic waves that bounce off subterranean deposits reveal their presence. But as a tool for exploring other worlds, the technique is poorly developed. “Some seismic measurements were taken of the Moon by Apollo astronauts, and that’s about it,” says Michael Dello-Iacovo, a former geophysicist and now a PhD candidate at UNSW. “An early Mars lander was designed to do that but crashed. Now the Mars InSight Mission is being prepared to carry out seismic studies but will not be launched until 2018.”

Seismic waves may behave very differently on asteroids or other planets, says Dello-Iacovo. “There will be no atmosphere, and virtually no gravity, and we have no idea how that will affect seismic wave behaviours. My research is aimed at tackling that problem,” adds Dello-Iacovo, who is spending a year at JPL working on methods for improving our understanding of asteroid interiors.

“We still don’t know if asteroids have solid cores or are just piles of rubble held together loosely,” Dello-Iacovo says. “If the latter, they might break apart if only a small force is applied to them during a mining operation.”

A host of ethical and legal issues also need to be overcome, says Saydam. “What treaties are we going to have to set up to exploit space? And what would happen if we suddenly turned a rare metal like platinum into a commonplace one by bringing huge chunks back to Earth? We could trigger a crash in international metal markets.

“On the other hand, off-Earth mining has the potential to trigger great expansion in the global economy and we must make sure that Australia can influence that through its research capabilities. We also need to make sure we have trained manpower to take advantage of this great adventure.”

– Robin McKie

5 ways to get to Mars

Find the best 5 ways to get to Mars

Featured image above: Could this be your new home? We take a look at the best 5 ways to get to Mars if living on another world is an idea that entices you.

Looking for an escape from planet Earth? We look at the quickest and most likely 5 ways to get to Mars and start your new adventure.

1. Ask a genius

Serial entrepreneur extraordinaire Elon Musk announced earlier this year that Space X has a Mars mission in its sights. In an hour long video, the billionaire founder announced his aim to begin missions to Mars by 2018, and manned flights by 2024. The planned massive vehicles would be capable of carrying 100 passengers and cargo with a ambitious cost of US$200,000 per passenger. He’s joined by other ambitious privately funded projects including Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin, which describes a reusable rocket booster and separable capsule that parachutes to landing. Meanwhile American inventor and chemical engineer, Guido Fetta has pionered a concept long discussed by the scientific community, electromagnetic propulsion, or EM drive, which creates thrust by bouncing microwave photons back and forth inside a cone-shaped closed metal cavity. Rumours this week from José Rodal from MIT that NASA was ready to release a paper on the process, which would be game-changing for space travel as the concept doesn’t rely on a propellant fuel.

2. Hitch a ride

In November 2016, NASA and CSIRO’s Parkes telescope opened the second of two 34-m dishes that will send and receive data from planned Mars missions, while also listening out for possible alien communications as part of UC-Berkeley-led project called Breakthrough Listen, the largest global project to seek out evidence of alien life. The Southern Hemisphere dish joins others in the US in using signal-processing hardware to sift through radio noise from Proxima b, the closest planet to us outside of the solar system. Whether an alien race would be willing or able to offer humanity a ride off its home planet is another question.

3. Aim high

While they are focused on getting out of the solar system, a team led by Dr. Philip Lubin, Physics Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara think they could get the travel time to Mars down to just three days (as opposed to six to eight months). Their project, Directed Energy for Relativistic Interstellar Missions, or DEEP-IN, aims initially send “wafer sats”, wafer-scale systems weighing no more than a gram and embedded with optical communications, optical systems and sensors. It’s received funding of US$600,000 to date from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, and theoretically could send wafer sats at one-quarter the speed of light – 160 million km an hour – using photonic propulsion. This relies on a laser beam to ‘push’ a incredibly small, thin-sail-like object through space. While it may seem a long shot for passenger travel, the system also has other applications in defence of the Earth from asteroids, comets and other near-earth objects, as well as the exploration of the nearby universe.

deep-laser-sail
Image: An artist’s conception of the laser-led space propulsion. Credit Q. Zhang

4. Volunteer

The Mars One project already has 100 hopeful astronauts selected for its planned one-way trip – out of 202,586 applicants. The project is still at ‘Phase A’ – early concept stage – in terms of actually getting there, but makes the list of the top 5 ways to get to Mars due to the large amount of interest: it has raised US$ 1 million towards developing a practical way to safely land some of these select few on the red Planet.

5. Ask the experts

In 2020, Australia will host the COSPAR scientific assembly, a gathering of 3000 of the world’s top space scientists. The massive conference will no doubt include some of the top minds focussed on this very problem, offering new hope in our long-term quest for planetary travel.

“We come to the table with a bold vision for our nation’s place in science – and through science, our place in space, said Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel.

radio telescope

Introducing the world’s largest radio telescope

Featured image: A computer generated image of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope dish antennas in South Africa. Credit: SKA Project Office.

What is dark matter? What did the universe look like when the first galaxies formed? Is there other life out there? These are just some of the mysteries that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will aim to solve.

Covering an area equivalent to around one million square metres, or one square kilometre, SKA will comprise of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas in the Karoo desert, South Africa and the Murchison region, Western Australia.

The multi-billion dollar array will be 10 times more sensitive and significantly faster at surveying galaxies than any current radio telescope.

The massive flow of data from the telescope will be processed by supercomputing facilities that have one trillion times the computing power of those that landed men on the Moon.

Phase 1 of SKA’s construction will commence in 2018. The construction will be a collaboration of 500 engineers from 20 different countries around the world.

– Gemma Conroy

Finding space industry’s next Elon Musk

 

Crew Dragon pad abort test, part of the December 2015 mission. Credit SpaceX

Speakers at the 2016 Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program Space and Entrepreneurism public event in Adelaide on January 28 have highlighted the challenges and opportunities on offer in the space industry.

Alex Grant, whose South Australian company Myriota is developing tiny devices to transmit data to and from remote locations, said finding commercially competitive ways to solve people’s problems was vital.

“If you can solve people’s problems at a price point they are willing to pay then that’s when you start getting investment, that’s when you start getting customers,” he said.

Flavia Tata Nardini, a former European Space Agency propulsion engineer, moved to Adelaide before founding Launchbox in 2014 to change the way people understood space science.

She has since also founded Fleet, which aims to use a constellation of low orbit satellites to bring cheap internet connections to the developing world.

Building a space industry

“Entrepreneurship is adventure and it’s a really hard adventure,” she told the audience at the University of South Australia’s Mawson Centre.

“You have to have an idea and then you have to make it happen … the only way you can do this is to understand where are the troubles … what is it that people need.

“For me it was a personal thing. When I arrived in Australia I thought I wanted to see that in 20 years everybody loved space, everybody was studying space.

“Launchbox is now a two-year-old company and it’s going great … I’ve seen so many students coming to me saying I want to study aerospace and be a space engineer because of you guys and that’s a very big achievement.”

Tata Nardini said the goal with Fleet was to provide internet for people all over the world who could not afford to pay more than $2 a month.

“To find investors we have learned to pitch what problem we are solving,” she said. “The problem we are solving is giving internet at very low cost to 3 billion people who are currently not connected.”

She said besides the strength to never give up, entrepreneurs need “a good analysis of what is out there, a good understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and a bit of luck.”

Brett Burford is the founder of AU Launch Services, an Adelaide-based consulting group that works with CubeSat manufacturers, owners and operators and serves as a single point of contact for clients.

Burford said finding the right niche required by the market was his key to establishing in the space industry.

“This is a million miles away from the first pre-conceived idea that I had but sometimes you just have to let go and say what does the market really need,” he said.

“You also need to understand the whole picture. There are regulatory issues, there are politics, there are a whole number of other factors that impact what you do.

“We really need to understand there is a market and we need to find out what the market needs are and realize we are not a space company, we provide services that require elements from space and that is the underpinning of what a space industry is.”

The next Elon Musk

Burford said global entrepreneurs in recent years like SpaceX founder Elon Musk had “brought space down closer to us than it has ever been”.

“And the closer that we feel to space the more we feel like maybe we can have some impact in that,” he said.

“When I first started looking into the space industry I came across a shortcut … what is the quickest way to become a space millionaire  … to be a billionaire and start investing in space.

“But luckily things are changing.”

First published on The Lead South Australia.

Curtin University in NASA’s Orbit with new SSERVI deal

Greg Schmidt, Deputy Director of SSERVI and Director of international partnerships (left) and Yvonne Pendleton, Director of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) (middle), join Professor Phil Bland, Principal Investigator at Curtin University in Perth, Australia (right), in signing an international agreement to share scientific and technological expertise in exploration science. Photo Credit: D. Morrison/NASA

NASA and Curtin University, located in Perth, Western Australia, have signed an Affiliate Member statement with NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). With the establishment of a NASA SSERVI Australia node, Australia’s planetary science community will participate in SSERVI programs on a no-exchange-of-funds basis.

“Australia’s impressive proposal to SSERVI offers scientific and technological expertise in understanding Solar System origins and evolution, lunar science, meteoritics and small bodies, asteroid differentiation, planetary mission science and technology, regolith processes on asteroids and the Moon, advanced analytical techniques, fireball observations and orbital dynamics, and links with the exoplanet and stellar evolution astrophysical communities. We are eager to see the collaborative scientific discoveries that result from this partnership,” says Yvonne Pendleton, Director of SSERVI.

The proposal submitted by Principal InvestigatorProfessor Phil Bland (Curtin University in Perth) and Deputy Director Dr Marc Norman (Australian National University in Canberra) included colleagues from a number of institutions across the country and represented a wide breadth of expertise from Australia’s planetary science community. The proposal was selected for Affiliate Membership after it was determined that complementary research activities will help NASA achieve its goals for human exploration of the solar system.

“This is a special moment for Australia,” says  Bland, from the Department of Applied Geology at the Curtin WA School of Mines.

“We are confident that this partnership will result in more great scientific discoveries in planetary science for both our our nations, as well as furthering the SSERVI goal of advancing basic and applied lunar and planetary science research and advancing human exploration of the solar system through scientific discovery.”

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry says the link with NASA was a fantastic opportunity for Curtin’s staff and students to engage with the global leader for space exploration.

“Given Curtin’s existing expertise in radio astronomy and involvement in the ground-breaking international Square Kilometre Array project, the partnership with NASA is a covetable attachment with many benefits,” says Terry.

“Our Australian partners have put together a compelling proposal that outlines multiple topics for potential collaborative research. We look forward to fruitful scientific collaborations, which will include the study of future potential mission concepts. This partnership will be important to NASA and its international partners successfully conducting the ambitious activities of exploring the solar system with robots and humans, and we look forward to a long and close partnership between our respective countries,” says Greg Schmidt, Deputy Director of SSERVI, who also directs international partnerships for the Institute.

“We look forward to fruitful scientific collaborations, which will include the study of future potential mission concepts. This partnership will be important to NASA and its international partners successfully conducting the ambitious activities of exploring the solar system with robots and humans, and we look forward to a long and close partnership between our respective countries.”

This article was first published by Curtin University on 30 July 2015. Read the article here.

Based and managed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, SSERVI is a virtual institute that, together with international partnerships, brings researchers together in a collaborative virtual setting. The virtual institute model enables cross-team and interdisciplinary research that pushes forward the boundaries of science and exploration. SSERVI is funded by the Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Find more information about SSERVI and selected member teams here.