Bethpage, NY - 03/06/98 - As NASA announced the Lunar Prospector's discovery of polar ice on the Moon, Applied Space Resources, Inc. (ASR) of Long Island, New York said the robotic sample return mission it is currently engineering will provide a proof of concept for low-cost commercial lunar sample retrieval missions. ASR's lunar sample return mission, the Lunar Retriever, will retrieve lunar rock and soil to sell both to research organizations and, through commercial channels, to the general public. ASR expects to launch Lunar Retriever by September 2000, the 30th anniversary of Luna 16, the first robotic sample return mission to soft land on the moon. "Based on the spacecraft designed for the Lunar Retriever mission, a follow-on mission to retrieve lunar soil and ice samples could be launched within six to twelve months after the initial mission at a cost well under $100 million," says Denise Norris, ASR's CEO.
When passed, the Commercial Space Act of 1997 will specifically instruct NASA to look to private companies like ASR to develop the In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology critical to its plans for future space exploration and colonization. And technology for using the newly-discovered lunar ice would give space exploration an immense boost. Water is critical to human life support, and can also be separated into its chemical components of hydrogen and oxygen: oxygen for breathing, and combinations of hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel. But the cost of lifting the thousands of gallons of water into low Earth orbit alone, much less transporting it from there to the Moon, would be prohibitive.
The Lunar Prospector data suggests there is an immense amount of water on the Moon in the form of ice mixed in with lunar soil. But before space explorers can make use of the water, scientists and engineers will have to figure out how best to extract it from the lunar soil, in which it is sparsely scattered. The Lunar Prospector's investigators, Dr. Alan Binder of the Lunar Research Institute in Gilroy, California and Dr. William Feldman of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, say the data suggests that water ice is confined to the polar regions and exists at only a 0.3 percent to 1 percent mixing ratio in combination with the rocky lunar soil.
Jay Manifold, ASR's Vice President of Research and Development, says, "The key to ISRU development, including research on how to extract and use lunar ice, is putting samples of lunar resources in the hands of scientists on Earth. ASR's goal is to use existing technologies to deliver spacecraft to any destination with precision, and return resources and information with equal precision, for a profit. Our Lunar Retriever, for example, will use the same Lockheed-Martin Athena 2 rocket as the Lunar Prospector. A mission to collect samples of lunar polar ice, and return them in cryogenic storage, would be a logical next step for us."
ASR's principals stress the importance of entrepreneurs to opening near-Earth space to the resource development that will make possible fulfilling NASA's exploration goals. ASR will make its services available to private and public concerns alike, but will take no subsidies. "Humankind will only benefit from the resources of space when they are developed by private enterprises such as ours," says Denise Norris. "We intend to use our knowledge, creativity, hard work and business vision to demonstrate the viability of market-driven space missions. We will not go to the public asking them to send us into space. We will go into space first, then come to the public with something to offer: the productive utilization of the vast resources of near-Earth space."
More information about Applied Space Resources and its Lunar Retriever mission can be found at the ASR web site.
Applied Space Resources
Hicksville, New York
January 13, 1998
As NASA's Lunar Prospector mapping mission set off to chart the moon's mineral resources, a private company announced its plan to put lunar rock in the hands of research organizations and private citizens alike. Applied Space Resources, Inc. (ASR) of Long Island, New York says it expects to be able to offer to the general public, through commercial distribution channels, approximately ten kilograms of lunar rock at a retail price comparable to high-quality gemstones. ASR also plans to sell additional material to interested scientific research organizations. ASR says it expects to launch its lunar sample return mission, the Lunar Retriever, by September 2000, the 30th anniversary of Luna 16, the first robotic sample mission to soft land on the moon.
ASR is developing a core competency in the use of existing technologies for the development of resources in near-Earth space. Its focus is to deliver spacecraft to any destination with precision, and return resources and information with equal precision, for a profit.
And the resources available for development are considerable. Astronomers have plotted the orbits of 400 near-Earth asteroids a kilometer or greater in diameter, and estimate their number to be closer to 2,000. Some of them would be easier to reach and return materials from than our Moon. Because of their size and the processes by which they were formed, these asteroids have rare metals such as platinum close to the surface; in this way, they differ from Earth, where most precious metals lie far beneath the planetary crust. Both NASA and Japan are planning missions to test new technology and assay particular asteroids.
As an initial mission, ASR has chosen the more modest goal of landing a spacecraft at a site on Sea of Tranquillity, gathering rock and soil and returning it safely to Earth, while leaving instruments behind for ongoing data transmission to Earth. It sees this mission as hastening the day when, for the first time in human history, individuals can gaze upon Earth's nearest neighbor while holding an affordable piece of it in their hands .. the day when businesspeople and engineers can retrieve formerly scarce resources from space. "We consider our Lunar Sample Return Mission an important demonstration of the value of space resources," says ASR Vice President Beth Elliott
. Elliott points out that a lunar sample return mission costing less than $100 million could return a quantity of lunar material with enough demand in the marketplace to make the return on investment attractive to financial backers. The current market for lunar samples is restricted by low supply and characterized by extremely high prices. In 1993, a sample of lunar material said to be from the Apollo 14 mission was sold publicly despite a federal policy prohibiting private ownership of material collected during the U.S. manned lunar landings. This sample, alleged to be lunar dust collected off Dave Scott's lunar EVA suit, sold for $42,500 based on the speculation that it was lunar in origin -- scientific authentication was never performed. A subsequent sale of lunar material from one of the former Soviet Union's three successful Luna sampling missions occurred at a Sotheby's auction. A sample weighing just a few grains, less than one carat in weight, sold for an astounding $442,000 -- or $2,200 per milligram.
"Missions like the Lunar Retriever are essential to understanding the resources available to a future manned lunar base, " says Jay Manifold, another ASR vice president. Manifold explains that an In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) program is key to developing a manned lunar base, and key to ISRU development is having samples of lunar resources in the hands of scientists on Earth.
Manifold will also be pointing out the parallels between the commercialization of near-Earth space and European voyages of exploration on January 14th in a presentation to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) at their 36th Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit in Reno, Nevada. In both instances, says Manifold, rival superpowers financed the technology of exploration, then, in the case of European exploration, retreated into the business of granting royal charters for a share of the profits. Individual entrepreneurs, finding that a purse full of coin could carry limited clout in emergencies, began to consolidate their operations, which led to the development of the corporation. A similar pattern is appearing with the advent of NASA's Discovery program and other efforts by world governments to push the financial risks of space exploration into the private sector. A copy of the presentation will be made available to the public at ASR's website on the day of the presentation.
When working with potential and financial partners, ASR's principals stress the importance of entrepreneurs to opening near-Earth space to resource development. ASR will make its services available to private and public concerns alike, but will take no subsidies. "Humankind will only benefit from the resources of space when they are developed by private enterprises such as ours," says ASR CEO Denise Norris. "We intend to use our knowledge, creativity, hard work and business vision to demonstrate the viability of market-driven space missions. We will not go to the public asking them to send us into space. We will go into space first, then come to the public with something to offer: the productive utilization of the vast resources of near-Earth space."