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Providing a much larger sample quantity to work with than other existing or proposed missions.

While scientists may be happy spending $800 million to return 60 grams of material from an asteroid (Osiris-Rex) and can likely tease out all sorts of information from that two tablespoons’ worth of material, ISRU development needs a lot more material to work with. Even the smallest of concepts I’ve seen for Option B (in which a robotic spacecraft would grab a boulder from an asteroid and move it into lunar orbit) would bring back tens of metric tons of material, both rocky and regolith, which should be plenty of material to work with for ISRU development.

I think some accounting needs to be done on the relative mission cost for the ARM versus the Osiris-Rex sample return, but on the face of it, this makes sense. This concept issues that of issue #2, insomuch that the real advantage is the local nature of the retrieved asteroid. It is hard to do real, meaty research on ISRU with very small samples, as much of ISRU’s promise is in making serviceable products and refined base material in macro quantities. That means not only looking at an extremely rare sample under a microscope or measuring its composition, but really developing space-based refining that boils off oxygen, and water, and other chemicals from the soil, and being able to build structures and machines from the orbiting ore.

That accounting is something that I think I will look into to validate my position here, but I think we’d find a cost and schedule savings by pulling off the one big deep space retrieval, instead of going far distances over and over to come home with tiny, impractical amounts of material. It’s like going to the hardware store for a nail, then back again for a board, then back for paint, then a hammer, a paintbrush…

Rolling Your Own


(Image courtesy of

For a lot of people, me included, there is a fascination with moving out into space using space stations of various configurations. I have a good number of years under my belt with the International Space Station (ISS) program, but I have always been drawn to larger systems of the future, like the rotating station-wheel of 2001, or the rotating cylinder type, like the Babylon 5 station or the enigmatic ship from the Rama novels. Really, I have always gravitated (no pun intended) to the latter of those two, more generally known as an O’Neill Cylinder.

I find the O’Neill cylinders to be the most straight-forward way to build a rotating station, as the cylinder is such a simple geometric volume, and offers the greatest advantage of available habitation square-footage on its interior. No space-based structure is simple to implement at this time in our technological development, and there would be many logistical hurdles we’d have to clear to make it happen.

Fortunately, the namesake scientist Gerard K. O’Neill, devised a clear roadmap to start such a development. His book, The High Frontier, originally published in 1976, still holds up really well in light of our somewhat stagnant space exploration progress over the past few decades. For many in the space industry it is a staple in their personal libraries. O’Neill’s work in the entire area, including his station designs developed for the Space Studies Institute, is inspiring to so many. Pressing forward, these designs need to be brought up again and again, and we should strive for them to become reality.

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