Tag Archives: in situ resource utilization

Manifesto part 3

Resources from Near Earth Objects

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are a collection of comets, asteroids and some other objects within the orbit of Mars. Most of these objects regularly come within close range from the Earth, some of those objects are actually easier to reach than the Moon. This seems strange, but in space travel access is not measured in distance but in velocity increments (delta V), which is a measure of the required energy. Because of the Moon’s mass it takes more energy to get to the Moon. And if we want to leave, we have to overcome the Lunar escape velocity.

In order to reach the Near Earth Objects, we have only to overcome a relatively small change in our position relative to the Sun. (Delta V is related to the local escape velocity from the Sun, which is a function of the distance from the Sun.) Therefore we need a rather small delta V to get to the Near Earth Objects. Of course the actual required velocity increment depends on the exact position of a particular object, but since there are several thousands of them we will simply pick one which is relatively close.

The major advantage of NEOs as a mining site, is that they contain a broad variety of resources. Unlike the Moon NEOs contain all chemical elements needed for a modern industrial society. And since NEOs have a negligible gravity, only a modest amount of fuel is required to return resources to Earth or anywhere else in space.

In situ resource utilization (ISRU) is the use of extraterrestrial resources at or near the location where they are mined. ISRU is opposed to importing resources from our planet. One example: the American space company Bigelow Aerospace has designed and built inflatable space stations. Suppose we buy one and we launch it to, say, L4. There we inflate the structure with air, which we have extracted from a Near Earth Asteroid. This example show the benefits of ISRU, by using air from NEO resources we can reduce the payload we need to launch from Earth. Basically we should restrict ourselves to launch only those items which cannot (already) produced in space, in order to reduce launch costs.

The extraction of resources from NEOs, is also important in funding space colonization. Especially the (limited) export of the precious platinum group metals will an important source of revenue for Space communities. The prospect of for-profit asteroid mining also makes it possible to do space colonization without government funding.

After some time, when space based industries are more developed we need to import less from Earth, since more products are manufactured locally. One development which is of interest of space colonization is 3D printing. This technology is also called rapid prototype technology or desktop manufacturing. 3D printing makes it possible to produce complicated structures in short time without a large workforce. Once a structure is stored in a computer file it can be printed on demand. Of course this technology has its limitations, but the prospects are quite promising.

3D printing and space colonization

Part One of this of this post was originally posted on blogspot.com on November 4, 2012 and Part Two was published there on November 24, 2012.

Part One

As you can read in our manifesto  we have high esteems of the prospects of 3D printing. This technology will make it possible to produce customized spare parts anywhere they are needed. In combination with in situ resource utilization, 3D printing will lessen the dependence of Space settlers of importation of goods from Earth.

Why do we have such a hopeful view of 3D printing? This article on BBC News shows that it is possible to print the parts of guns with a commercial available 3D printer. Not that we advocate this particular application of 3D printing, far from it. But that some technology may be used for (possibly) illegal application, is not a reason for banning it (this would as absurd as outlawing the Internet, only because Internet has mad it easier to spread child pornography). For instance knifes can be used for legal purposes like cooking, but also for murdering people. The use of technology of illegal purposes should be banned, not the technology itself, certainly if the noble applications are much more important.

That said, I will return to my argument. If it is possible to print parts of guns, it will be possible to create many more stuff. Notice that a properly working gun is a moderately complex object. Within a few years from now, 3D printers will be able to create almost every part we need, including the parts of a 3D printer itself. It is not hard to imagine to bright prospects of 3D printers for space colonization.

Once 3D-printing has advanced to the point that nearly all things can be printed, we need only to bring one 3D-printer (or at least its dissembled components) to outer space. There we can print new printers, thereafter we can produce all the stuff we need, while simultaneously weakening our dependence of Earth based supplies. Which is important, because it makes Space Settlers less vulnerable from extortion and blackmailing from Terrestrial powers.

Part Two

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on 3D-printing, today I found the following article. This article describes a method to print electronic circuits, which a of huge importance for space colonization. We cannot think about space colonization or space travel in general without the extensive use of electronics.

This new development will make the production of cheap electronics reality. And by moving such 3D-printers into outer space, Space Colonies will become self-sufficient much earlier than I would have ever dreamed. As I have explained in my earlier post, the dependence on the import of components from Earth is both expensive and will make Space Colonies vulnerable to sabotage by terrestrial parties.

I am interested to learned what is next regarding 3D-printing.