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NASA Planning Lunar Mining Tests, Other New Tech 79

Posted by timothy
from the quick-look-busy dept.
FleaPlus writes "NASA has released the initial details on its ETDD (Enabling Technology Development and Demonstrations) program to 'develop and demonstrate the technologies needed to reduce cost and expand the capability of future space exploration activities.' The ETDD program is initially planning on funding small-scale demonstrations in five technology areas: in-situ resource utilization (with a robotic lunar resource extraction mission in 2015), high-power electric propulsion, autonomous precision landing (building on the success of the Lunar Lander Challenge), human-robotic collaboration (2011/2012), and fission power systems. More info on NASA's larger-scale Flagship Technology Demonstrations (FTD) program is expected in the coming month."
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NASA Planning Lunar Mining Tests, Other New Tech

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  • And maybe save a few lives besides? Sounds worth the cost, no?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lul_wat (1623489)
      Worth it to the people who would die? Absolutely. Worth it to shareholders? Hardly.
      • by Vahokif (1292866)
        It is worth it for the shareholders because they lose even more money if the miners go on strike.
      • Share Holders do not necessarily associate mortality with their investments; because it would be to distracting. But what if a mining company did start using automated solutions? What if the energy source was renewable, then a corporation could apply for an government grant. Coal mining would not be the only industry affected, consider the planting of a tree and its care and feeding. Any raw material can be obtained in any environment and the only issue would be in determining scrap value. Simulations
    • by khallow (566160) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:21PM (#32202324)

      And maybe save a few lives besides? Sounds worth the cost, no?

      No, it isn't. Otherwise it'd be done already. The problem is that human labor isn't that expensive and you'd have to put a huge amount of money in to develop a completely automated system. No coal mine will have either the incentive or the assets to do such a project.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Redlazer (786403)
      Maybe. We won't know until after it has been developed.

      Personally, I think this is exactly something that NASA should be doing. NASA is about pushing the envelope, and this is just as good an envelope to push as any.

      This sort of bleeding edge technology development is expensive and wasteful, so it only makes sense for the government to be doing it. Which isn't a bash against government (well, it sorta is), as that is what I want the government to do. Leave making money to the people.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      When robots can climb, operate for eight hours in damp and mostly-dark conditions, and do elaborate things with ropes...sure.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        When robots can climb, operate for eight hours in damp and mostly-dark conditions, and do elaborate things with ropes...sure.

        So you want robots that operate in brothels?

    • No, because coal mines are temporary, short and have very little scientific value.

      If we have a robot-operated moon base, it makes getting a constant human presence on the moon a lot easier. With a coal mine it might last 20-30 years before the coal runs out. The more efficient the workers, the more supply and the less value the mine has on earth. Robotic lunar workers could help build a moon-base for human occupants, create infrastructure using the natural resources of the moon, and allow for a lot of s
    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      Keep in mind that any near-term robotic lunar resource extraction is going to be much more analogous to surface mining [wikipedia.org], rather than the underground mining [wikipedia.org] which is responsible for the deaths which we've been reading about in the news. Lunar resources like water ice are going to be on or close to the surface, so no complex tunneling will be involved.

    • If Kennedy hadn't gotten his way, it would be humans doing some of the work, not robots. We would be living on the moon... or even Mars. But no. Kennedy had to do things that scared us out of space for years on end, killing nearly all progress.
  • by schn (1795404)
    One way trips to the moon. Mining technology not included.
  • Perfect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fadethepolice (689344) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:04PM (#32202192) Journal
    lunar mining: Cheapest way to build a moonbase. Just keep tunneling and put several seals to keep air in. There is no point in going to the moon, or anywhere else, if we don't have a cheap mining unit to get resources and build a base. Otherwise it' was a wasted trip. Powerful electric propulsion and fission power plant: Excellent way to overcome the limits of of carrying fuel up the gravity well all of the time. Great way to re-use the ship you build out of it from mars so you can get a ferry going every few weeks. I'm not going to keep the lovefest going for the other ones, but I definitely think this is a change for the better.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by QuantumG (50515) *

      http://www.niac.usra.edu/files/studies/final_report/428Boston.pdf [usra.edu]

      One of the best studies done on extraterrestrial cave habitation. Reports like this are one of the reasons why it was such a travesty that Griffin shut down NIAC, just to raid their budget for Constellation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        One of the best studies done on extraterrestrial cave habitation. Reports like this are one of the reasons why it was such a travesty that Griffin shut down NIAC, just to raid their budget for Constellation.

        Not sure if you already knew this, but NASA is actually planning on restarting the NIAC under its new plans:

        http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/428439main_Space_technology.pdf [nasa.gov]

        Responsive the NRC report, Fostering Visions for the Future: A Review of the NASA Institute for
        Advanced Concepts (2009), the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts (NIAC) will be re-established
        as a project within the Early Stage Innovation Program. The project is formulated as a two-phase,
        low TRL activity, focused upon conceptual studies of visionary approaches addressing long-term
        NASA strategic goals. The first phase of NIAC will fund a competed set of conceptual studies and
        systems analyses that investigate how technology innovations will enable NASA's future missions
        and extend its goals. Second Phase NIAC proposals will further develop successful Phase I
        proposals and work to transition the key technical advances into projects within the Game Changing
        Technology Program.

        NIAC will serve as an incubator for bringing new technologies into future aerospace endeavors. By
        supporting innovative and visionary concepts aimed a decade or more into the future, NIAC-funded
        research significantly impacts the Agency's future missions as well as its roadmaps for future
        science, discovery and exploration. As a low-TRL early phase activity, NIAC will serve as a visible
        and recognized entry point for innovators and researchers who will enable future NASA missions and
        goals. ...

  • by cjonslashdot (904508) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:12PM (#32202252)
    According to the RFI at http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=34056 [spaceref.com] nuclear propulsion is excluded unless it is used solely for heat generation or as a power source for electric propulsion. Thus, some of the most promising nuclear technologies for rocket propulsion such as micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission are excluded.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SECProto (790283)
      using nuclear as a electricity source for larger propulsion systems (ie, higher than the small ion drives currently using RTG) would be a huge step up. whenever they launch VASIMR to the station, it will only be able to fire for short bursts, because the huge solar arrays on the station cannot power it continuously. If a similar system used nuclear electricity to drive it, it could fire continuously and be a viable propulsion system.

      on the other hand, using "micro pellet inertial confinement compression
      • by cjonslashdot (904508) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @10:47PM (#32203300)

        I cannot say for sure, but I do not believe that an inertial confinement system is decades away. In fact, there was a-lot of research into such systems during the 1960s. It was abandoned during the 70s when nuclear energy for space became politically untenable, but then it was picked up again during the 90s. During the late 90s it very abruptly stopped - or went dark. (Perhaps it was successful...)

        In any case, it turns out that the energy required to compress fissile pellets (the size of a grain of sand) to critical density for fission requires particle beam equipment the size of a refrigerator - i.e., very achievable. The engineering challenges then are not related to creating fission, but rather to managing the high temperature plasmas to produce usable thrust without damaging the system. These engineering challenges are very similar to the challenges that VASIMIR has, and so if they can be solved for VASIMIR one would expect that they could be solved for a fission-powered system. I believe that the plasma temperatures for a micro pulse fission system (using water as a propellant mass source) are similar to those for VASIMIR, but I cannot say for sure.

      • Project Orion definitely works. It just need a remote launching site like the Bikini Atol.
        • by khallow (566160)
          Or beyond Earth orbit. I think it'll be a long time before a rocket based on nuclear power is allowed to launch payloads from Earth's surface. Such a design will most likely be tried somewhere else first.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by blurryrunner (524305)

      micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission

      You say that like you didn't just make it up. ;)

      br/

      • linky [ieee.org]
      • For a propulsion system to transport large payloads with short transit times between different planetary orbits: a deuterium fusion bomb propulsion system is proposed where a thermonuclear detonation wave is ignited in a small cylindrical assembly of deuterium with a gigavolt-multimegampere proton beam, drawn from the magnetically insulated spacecraft acting in the ultrahigh ultrahigh adj. Exceedingly high: an ultrahigh vacuum. vacuum of space as a gigavolt capacitor. other linky [thefreelibrary.com]. This could be science fi
    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      According to the RFI at http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=34056 [spaceref.com] nuclear propulsion is excluded unless it is used solely for heat generation or as a power source for electric propulsion. Thus, some of the most promising nuclear technologies for rocket propulsion such as micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission are excluded.

      Keep in mind that the ETDD program (the one mentioned in the summary) is specifically intended for tech which has already attained a mid-level TRL (Technolo [wikipedia.org]

      • Thanks for this clarification.

        I wonder if some of the more promising long term technologies are covered under a different initiative?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by khallow (566160)

      According to the RFI at http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=34056 [spaceref.com] nuclear propulsion is excluded unless it is used solely for heat generation or as a power source for electric propulsion. Thus, some of the most promising nuclear technologies for rocket propulsion such as micro pellet inertial confinement compression-induced fission are excluded.

      There's two questions to ask here. First, is there a role for such propulsion in near future space activities? I'd have to say "no". Most of our transportation overhead is going from Earth to orbit, something which nuclear won't help with, just due to environmental and safety concerns, until it's been proven somewhere else first (namely somewhere in space). You'll need infrastructure there to support such tests IMHO, which makes it a second generation project. Also, you need to do something with the remains

  • by Anonymous Coward

    interesting bbc article, sounds like Tibetans would make great astronauts.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8680503.stm [bbc.co.uk]

  • and avoid oil spills on the moon. We just jammed up gulf of Mexico, avoid covering with tar palus Putredinis [fourmilab.ch]

    • by f3rret (1776822)

      There's no oil on the moon!

      They might create a dust spill or something, maybe a water or helium-3 spill.

      That being said, us being humans I'm sure we'll find a way to make a horrible mess of the moon, even if it is just dust and rocks.

  • I wonder if they let players interface with those mining drones via the that NASA MMO [nasa.gov]

  • The high cost to the human race's colonisation of space is caused by the complexity and danger of reaching and leaving escape velocity within the earth's atmosphere.

    The Space Shuttle turned out to be an expensive and dangerous white elephant, the reason the Shuttle was so expensive is, because of its complexity with millions of different manufactured parts, and the need to cover it with bathroom tiles.

    There is another route, we can reach the edge of space no problem Burt Rutan proved this with Space Ship on

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