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  • Writer's pictureAmara Graps

Ten Asteroid Mining Milestones in 2019

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

In 2019, the space-resource-utilisation (SRU) of the asteroids community DEEPENED with rapid evolutions in working technologies, legal frameworks, education and asteroid science.

1) Space Resource Utilization (SRU) Strategies / Roadmaps continue

After Luxembourg's Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) published value chain strategy, The Space Agencies (ESA, NASA) in 2019 established their own SRU Strategy (1, 2), but focused on the Moon. The Technology Working Group of the interagency International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) began to perform a technology gap identification focused on ISRU (3). The lunar SRU community grows proportionally (4). We note that the Moon is a source of asteroid resources too (5).

2) The "Building Blocks" finalised

The regulatory guidelines for space resource utilisation from The Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group was finalised on November 12, 2019. (6)

3) SRU Education Programs continue

After the 2018 Colorado School of Mines SRU educational program, a

2-day professional ISRU introduction was offered in Luxembourg during the Space Resources Week, October 7-8, 2019 (7). Coming in early 2020 is NASA Virtual Institute + Univ Central Florida : "The Economic Geology of Lunar and Asteroid Resources" online course in (this) Winter 2020 (8). Later in Fall 2020 at the University of Luxembourg begins, for the first time, a 2 year Master’s course in ISRU (9).

4) Hayabusa 2 collected a wealth of scientific data about a water-rich, C-type, asteroid named Ryugu and sent it home.

Hayabusa 2, a Japanese Space Agency asteroid mission follow-on to Hayabusa 1 (10), spent one-and-a-half years orbiting asteroid Ryugu, touched down and collected asteroid dust samples (11), created an artificial crater (12) , and deployed an autonomous probe that collected data from multiple locations for 17 hours on Ryugu’s surface October 3, 2019 (13). Hayabusa2 left Ryugu November 13 (14). The spacecraft will attempt to drop off its rich cache next November or December 2020.

5) OSIRIS-Rex discovers its own C-type asteroid : Bennu, is active and water-rich

OSIRIS-REx, a NASA sample return asteroid mission (15), has spent since December 2018 orbiting the C-type asteroid Bennu, and mapping Bennu's surface in detail. The mission's main highlights thus far has determined that the small body is water-rich (16) and has 'jets' (17), presumably making Bennu an active asteroid. On December 12, the mission team announced (18) that OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample site on Bennu will be the one labeled "Nightingale" from its choice of four (19), and its secondary site will be "Osprey". Rehearsals and sample return will take place in 2020 with the spacecraft departing from Bennu in March 2021.

For a deep dive into ASIME 2018's science knowledge gap of asteroid composition, and why C-type asteroids are of particular interest to the asteroid miners, see Graps et al, 2019 (20).

6) NASA Award to push a method for asteroid resource harvesting and propulsion above TRL 4.

NASA provided a NIAC award (21) to TransAstra for the Mini Bee Prototype to demonstrate the Apis Mission Architecture and Optical Mining Technology. Apis sits on top of a series of inventions that include a method of asteroid resource harvesting, and solar thermal propulsion. The NIAC award will push the TRL of the Apis architecture and roadmap above 4.

7) Exolith Lab: Available C-type asteroid regolith simulants in bulk.

The Exolith Lab (22), part of the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science at the University of Central Florida has developed further their asteroid simulants (23) first created with Deep Space Industries' several years ago. The asteroid simulant materials are based on the mineralogies that dominate C-type asteroids of high interest to the asteroid miners and available in bulk.

8) First blockchain-based collaboration platforms for space applications: TruSat established.

While government entities all over the world position themselves in NewSpace / Space 4.0: either alone, or in industry partnerships, the blockchain company ConsenSys is demonstrating the decentralizing, democratizing and diversifying aspects of entrepreneurial space with its first space application (24, 25). TruSat is a crowd-sourced, open source, open-sensor system for creating a globally-accessible, independent record of satellite orbital positions.

9) Orbit Fab demonstrated first technology for refueling satellites as first startup to supply water to the Space Station.

Orbit Fab in 2019 demonstrated a space-based robotic refueling technology when it supplied water to the International Space Station. Their goal is to extend the life of satellites, and make satellites reusable as well. The idea is that satellite makers will build their standard nozzles into their designs, and then a robotic refueler will be able to seek out the nozzle, open and then close on to the coupler, forming a solid connection to allow propellant transfer. The system solves the precise transfer of fluid in microgravity, which could be water for an asteroid mining satellite with a water thruster, or any other liquid. Orbit Fab also has a plan to refuel legacy satellites.

10) Water thrusters become more mature

Bradford Space Industries water thrusters (27) are currently running zero failure in-orbit heritage (HawkEye 360, BlackSky Global and Capella Space)


(3) ISECG 'Gap Assessment Team'

(4) >370 mostly lunar ISRU participants at Space Resources Week in Luxembourg October 2019.

(5) Ian Crawford The Moon’s Role in the Development of Space Resources

(6) The text of the Building Blocks can be found at

(11) Hayabusa 2 Collecting Samples

(12) Hayabusa 2 Creating an artificial crater:

(16) Bennu Water-rich

V. E. Hamilton et al, (2019). "Evidence for widespread hydrated minerals on asteroid (101955) Bennu", Nature Astronomy.

D. S. Lauretta and C. W. Hergenrother et al., Science 366, eaay3544 (2019). DOI: 10.1126/science.aay3544

(18) Update 12 December 2019: OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample site will be Nightingale and its secondary site will be Osprey. The team announced this at a press conference at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2019.

Citation: Cartier, K. M. S. (2019), Location, location, location: The how-to’s of asteroid sampling, Eos, 100, Published on 12 December 2019.

(20) Asteroid Intersections with In-Space Mine Engineering (ASIME) 2018 White Paper.

"In-Space Utilisation of Asteroids: Asteroid Composition -- Answers to Questions from the Asteroid Miners"

Amara L. Graps (lead author), Angel Abbud-Madrid, Paul Abell, Antonella Barucci, Pierre Beck, Lydie Bonal, Grant Bonin, Øystein Risan Borgersen, Daniel Britt, Humberto Campins, Kevin Cannon, Ian Carnelli, Benoît Carry, Ian Crawford, Julia de Leon, Line Drube, Kerri Donaldson-Hanna, Martin Elvis, Alan Fitzsimmons, JL Galache, Simon F. Green, Jan Thimo Grundmann, Alan Herique, Daniel Hestroffer, Henry Hsieh, Akos Kereszturi, Michael Kueppers, Chris Lewicki, Yangting Lin, Amy Mainzer, Patrick Michel, Hong-Kyu Moon, Tomoki Nakamura, Antti Penttila, Sampsa Pursiainen, Carol Raymond, Vishnu Reddy, Andy Rivkin, Joel Sercel, Angela Stickle, Paolo Tanga, Mika Takala, Tom Wirtz, YunZhao Wu

(23) Daniel T. Britt et al, (2019). "Simulated asteroid materials based on carbonaceous chondrite mineralogies" Meteoritics & Planetary Science 54, Nr 9, 2067–2082 (2019) doi: 10.1111/maps.13345

(27) Bradford Space Industries Comet Thruster

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