Will The Dawn Space Probe Unlock The Secrets Of The Asteroid Belt?

Posted by on Dec 1, 2009 in Asteroids, Blog, Ceres, NASA, Vesta | 0 comments

Last month Dawn, a space probe sent to analyze the mega asteroid Vesta and its bigger brother Ceres officially entered the asteroid belt.

Contrary to what you might have seen on Star Wars, it’s very unlikely that Dawn will run into an over sized boulder, let alone a large pebble as it travels its way between the inner and outer planets.

Despite the fact that Dawn is about 600 days away from its first destination (that would be Vesta), its analysis could determine whether or not establishing mining colonies within the asteroid belt is worth the hassle.

Dawn’s final destination is Ceres, a world that may hold promise for water ice, making it a valuable asset (at least as far as space real estate goes).

NASA still has not determined what it will do after Ceres, although hopefully they will consider exploring other promising asteroids (like Pallas, Juno and Hygiea).

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One Solar Space Power To Rule Them All?

Posted by on Dec 10, 2008 in Asteroids, Blog, Callisto, Ceres, Mars, Moon, Solar Essay, Titan | 8 comments

Image Credit: Loony Tunes

Note: Article inspired by NASA Watch, The Planetary Society and 21st Century Waves

Warning: This is an extremely long article, so you may want to grab a quick snack as you read through this post.

Anyone who has ever played board games such as Risk and Monopoly knows that the overall purpose of the game is for one player to dominant the board by either taking territory or securing financial resources ahead of their rivals.

The same rule also applies to the final frontier as evidenced by the space race emerging in Asia, as well as between the US and China.

While every nation probably has their own “road map” for conquering the final frontier, there are no less than five critical locations (ranging from asteroids to dwarf planets to even moons) that a space faring nation must secure if they desire to remain (or become) a solar space power in our star system.

First Stop: Luna

Orbiting a mere light second away from Earth, the Moon could easily be described as humanities second home due to its proximity towards our birth world.

Although the lunar surface may lack water (at least in abundance), its white regolith can be “easily” converted into breathable oxygen, allowing our species to survive beyond our earthen cradle without the need to constantly borrow air from our home world.

Often seen as free on planet Earth, oxygen in space will be literally worth its “weight” in gold, and any nation that can find a way to inexpensively produce lunar oxygen will have an advantage later on over its rivals (and may even be able to sell the precious gas for a profit).

While its oxygen rocks could enable humanity to live off world, its reduced gravity may make the tiny sphere appealing to asteroid miners seeking out near earth objects (aka NEO’s).

Since micro-gravity has a way of eroding bones and muscles, destroying immune systems, weakening hearts and strengthening deadly bacteria, asteroid miners may prefer to live lunar side (with frequent trips to mine these NEO’s), than to spend the majority of their time floating next to a space rock in micro-gravity.

Even though a space faring nation (both current and aspiring) could develop a sustainable presence around the Moon (and nearby space rocks) due to its resources and location, it may be wise to travel beyond Earth’s orbit towards more promising worlds (in order maintain its status a future space power).

Next Stop: The dwarf planet Ceres

Although some would consider it “insane” to skip the red planet, heading to Ceres first will ensure that a future space power has the resources to fund its expansion (note: despite the fact that doing so means sacrificing the prestige of sending the first man or woman to Mars).

Ceres strategically orbits within the metal rich region of the asteroid belt, making this dwarf planet prime real estate (at least to asteroid mining corporations).

Any nation establishing a colony on Ceres would be able to send teams of astronauts to secure nearby metallic space rocks as their own, potentially selling them to future allies or harvesting the mineral resources for themselves.

While the dwarf planet lacks any resources of its own, Ceres is suspected of hosting more “fresh water” than Earth itself, which would enable future asteroid minors to potentially grow their own food off world without depending on frequent supplies from Earth.

It would also allow Ceres to act as a interplanetary rest stop between Mars and Jupiter, not to mention a safe haven as well (just in case the asteroid belt becomes infested with space pirates).

Since most of humanities attention will probably be focused on Mars after the Moon, there will probably be very little competition establishing a dominant presence on Ceres (if not conquer it entirely for themselves).

Third Stop: The Martian moon called Phobos

Despite its popularity in science fiction, Mars will probably attract very few visitors due to the extreme difficulty in landing large payloads on the surface of the red planet.

Coupled with the fact that Mars lacks major resources of any kind (note: at least that we know of), the crimson world may only be inhabited by scientists, various cults and individuals disillusioned by Earthen (and Lunar) governments.

Even though the red planet may not be of much economic worth (at least initially), one of its asteroid moons Phobos could be converted into an enormous space station in order to make it easier to process metals harvested from the asteroid belt.

Since the sunlight on Mars is much stronger than in the asteroid belt, a future mining corporation could use the Sun’s rays to melt asteroid metals en mass before exporting them towards Earth (and Luna).

Although working on an asteroid moon may be profitable, living upon one may not due to the side effects of micro-gravity.

Even though a future miner could always counter the effects of micro-gravity with various drugs and electronic shocks, it may be wiser to settle upon the red deserts below as Mars’s gravity is approximately 38% Earth norm.

In order to reduce the cost of transporting personal (and equipment) to and from the Martian surface, a future space power may need to construct an “orbital space elevator” on the near side of Phobos.

While constructing this would ultimately open up Mars to the rest of humanity (which a future space power could charge a fee for rivals to use), it would also allow them to import water from the Martian surface (instead of depending upon either Earth or Ceres for supplies).

Fourth Stop: The Jovian moon Callisto

Often regarded as a dead world, the Jovian moon Callisto may be of high worth to any space faring nation, due to the fact that it is one of the few radiation safe worlds in our star system.

Even though Mars and the Moon may have “celebrity status” throughout our solar system, neither of the worlds has a global magnetic field to protect their spheres from the wrath of the Sun.

Callisto on the other hand is not only protected by Jupiter’s magnetic field, but it orbits just beyond the gas giant’s radiation belt, enabling future colonists to raise families (and pets) upon this world without fear of growing a third eye ball.

While Callisto may not have any immediate value outside of being a midway point between the inner solar system and Saturn, establishing an outpost here would enable a future space power to “easily explore” its brother Ganymede.

Although Ganymede’s orbit takes it into the heart of Jupiter’s radiation belts, a properly shielded colony could use Ganymede’s global magnetic field to raise an abundance of crops with the help of bees (instead of relying upon ants who may not need a magnetic field to pollinate our green friends).

While it would probably be impossible for one space faring nation to conquer both of these worlds for themselves, conquering these moons early on (especially Callisto) could give a rising space power significant influence over the future of the Jupiteran system (not to mention the next gas giant as well).

Last Stop: The methane moon called Titan

Even if humanity finds a way to harvest the helium-3 locked away within Luna’s crust (not to mention the atmosphere of Uranus), the cost of mining it m
ay put it out of reach for most interplanetary commercial spacecraft.

Since supplies of Uranium and Plutonium could easily become unavailable for space travel (as many nations on Earth may need them for energy or defense), finding an inexpensive alternative could determine whether or not a space faring nation thrives or merely survives in the depths of our star system.

One way to guarantee that a future space power has the neccessary fuel to maintain its fleet (at least inexpensively) is to establish outposts near Titan’s methane lakes (which may contain an abundance of methane/ethane within them).

While it would not be surprising to see Titan heavily colonized in the fairly distant future (by various countries), securing this world early on would enable a space faring country to establish tremendous influence throughout the solar system (or at least within the ringed system of Saturn).

What about the other worlds?

Although their are plenty of other interesting worlds ranging from the burning crust of Mercury to the frozen wasteland of Neptune’s moon Triton, these worlds may not attract that much interest in the future (at least as far as we can tell right now).

Even though everyone probably hopes that humanity would put aside their differences and explore the final frontier in peace, six thousand years of recorded history seems to hold a dim view regarding this viewpoint (as one can glimpse the wars that have raged upon our planet).

Whether or not humanity decides to conquer every sphere and space rock within our solar system only time will tell.

But either way, these four worlds (plus one asteroid moon) may be the key that determines which space faring nation not only dominates our solar system, but perhaps guides us unto the next one as well.

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Colonizing Ceres Before Mars Could Save The Red Planet

Posted by on Oct 10, 2007 in Asteroids, Blog, Ceres, Mars, Solar Essay | 7 comments

Some people say Mars is our next home. Other people say Mars is utterly worthless. Regardless of the viewpoint, humans will probably end up visiting the place for “eternal glory,” if not for scientific reasons.

Whether or not our species actually settles the red planet is highly questionable. Unlike Earth’s Moon, Mars lacks major resources of any kind that would make colonizing the planet worthwhile. Unless those crimson deserts can provide some return on investment, it may be wiser to turn Mars into a penal colony, than attempting to recreate the world into a second home.

But humanity may be able to justify settling Mars by diverting its attention towards the asteroid belt first–and the key towards conquering the asteroid belt, as well as Mars may lie upon the dwarf world Ceres.

Despite their major differences, both Mars and Ceres share a few similarities. Both worlds harbor abundant supplies of water, respectively, and both worlds are located closer to the metal rich “zone” of the asteroid belt than our home world.

Ceres however is located within the “mineral field of dreams,” dancing around the sun between 2.5-3 AU (or astronomical units). This places the icy world in the heart of the metal rich zone, the majority of which can be found orbiting our star between 2 and 3.5 AU.

Its prime location gives it an enormous advantage over the red giant, as well as a motivation for both national governments and companies to visit this lonely dwarf planet.

Ceres also has a lower gravity well than either Earth or Mars, making rocket launches off of the asteroid king very inexpensive. Boasting 3% Earth gravity, Cerian colonies would be able to easily transport precious metals back to our home world (from other asteroids) without the need for large amounts of rocket fuel.

Ceres’s prime location as well as its gravitational benefits could (like Earth’s moon) help jump start our solar economy, if not give it a second wind. But how would an active mining industry aid a future Martian colony? After all, if Mars has very little to offer our species financially, why even bother colonizing it?

Despite the fact that Ceres has an abundant supply of water, that supply is finite and will not last forever. As the number of asteroid colonies increase throughout the asteroid belt, so too will the demand for water. Although Earth has plenty of water to spare, it may be simply too expensive to rocket the precious liquid to quench the thirst of asteroid minors.

As the demand for water increases, so will the cost of transporting it from Ceres’s dwindling supplies. While launching water from Earth may not be affordable, launching it from Mars probably will. With only 38% Earth gravity, the crimson planet would have a much shallower gravity well than our blue home world, enabling it to meet the future water demand at an affordable price.

Although Mars may ultimately provide a second habitat for humanity, it may make business sense to refocus our efforts on the asteroid belt first. Not only would it sustain political support from various Earth governments over time (mainly because of the money), but it would satisfy the “why space” questions in the public, without resorting to a short hand list.

(Image Credits: NASA)

Note: Due to lack of time, images (and some links) will be added later.

Update: Added several paragraphs as well as edited a few sentences for grammar and clarity. Also added several images and links as well.

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Which Worlds Should We Colonize First?

Posted by on Sep 5, 2007 in Blog, Callisto, Ceres, Ganymede, Jupiter, Mars, Moon, Saturn, Solar Essay, Titan | 3 comments

Our race is indeed blessed to inhabit a fertile world that orbits our favorite star, Sol. With 83 colony worlds dancing around our yellow sun, one can only imagine all the possibilities of our brave race inhabiting them all.

Of course, reality has a way of correcting our fantasies, and just as humanity refuses to dwell near or upon certain mountains, canyons and islands, so our young species may opt to skip over certain worlds in order to inhabit others.

So which worlds hold the promise of housing tomorrows children?

The first (and probably most obvious) world earth’s kids may call home is the moon (aka Luna). The moon will be humanities first stepping stone way from Earth, and will most like jump start our journey into space, as its soil may contain valuable resources that can pay for all the fancy equipment needed to survive off world.

Skipping Earth’s nearest neighbor would probably be disastrous, as our sensitive public is barely able to handle any “boo boo’s” that happen in the solar abyss, much less a fatality. If terraforming ever became a reality, the moon would be a prime candidate for another Earth, as it already inhabits the “Goldilocks zone.”

Journeying outward, our dusty neighbor Mars would come into play. Despite lacking resources of its own to attract businesses upon its crimson soil, Mars does hold an abundance of water which would make a human settlement somewhat possible upon its rusty surface.

(Video: A visual of what Mars would look like if a large portion of its ice water melted and flooded the planet. Credit: NASA)

Mars is also conveniently located near the asteroid belt, which could help turn this barren world into an industrial paradise. Although other worlds (such as Earth) could always mine the asteroid belt with their own ships, it may be easier (and cheaper) to outsource that task to the Martians, the way many American business outsource their “sneaker and jacket making” to China.

Expanding further throughout the solar system, dwarf world Ceres would come into play. Thought to hold an abundance of water beneath its surface, Ceres could easily serve as a way station, supplying crews with water and fuel in the middle of the asteroid belt.

Entering the realm of the Jovian giant Jupiter, humanity would probably end up settling on Callisto. Not only does this heavily cratered moon harbor life necessities (such as CO2 and water), but it could also serve as a gateway towards the other gas giants.

Although Callisto may play a crucial role in our quest to colonize our star system, its bigger brother Ganymede may end up becoming the Jovian favorite, and perhaps even the prime world of the gas giants.

Entering our last stop would be Saturn’s Titan, a world believed to contain multitude of methane lakes. Although Titan’s methane weather cycle may be worth billions, its unique environment may become the attraction of the solar system, as its air pressure may make life very interesting for sports enthusiasts, artists and even musicians.

Of all the worlds that orbit our star system, these six worlds will probably be illuminated by the lights of future cities upon its surface.

But what about the other 76 worlds that grace our star system? Are not they worthy of being called home by future residents?

Unfortunately many of these other worlds will probably not be settled due to various reasons (at least voluntarily), although you will have to wait until next week to find out why most of these worlds will probably be skipped by our human race in our quest to colonize the stars.

Note: Due to lack of time images (an
d video) will be added later.

Update: Added video and images, as well as broke up last paragraph.

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Vesta And Ceres: The Dawn Of A New Age

Posted by on May 23, 2007 in Asteroids, Blog, Ceres, NASA, Vesta | 0 comments

(Image: Asteroid Vesta in false color. Credit: NASA)

Like a hostile mountain range separating civilization from the wilderness, the asteroid belt divides our Earthen and (future) Martian homes from the Jovian frontier. In this wilderness of floating boulders, lies a region that is often regarded as rubble, forgotten rocks of little beauty and appeal.

But in this unglamorous region of space lies riches untold for those who are willing to discover it, and with NASA heaven bent on sending its own across our star system, our species may be taking its first steps in locating our first asteroid homes.

(The Flame Trench) Mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 30. The launch window that day will stretch from 5:13 p.m. to 5:33 p.m.

The spacecraft will be setting sail on a mission to study the solar system’s two largest protoplanets, Ceres and Vesta. Flying within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Dawn will swing by Vesta in October 2011 and Ceres in February 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to study two asteroids on the same mission.

Although both of these asteroids differ in composition and nature, both Vesta and Ceres hold much promise as future outpost colonies, especially for future mining industries. Despite its size, Vesta has shown surprising evidence of past geologic activity, which may indicate that heavier metals (and minerals) lie just beneath its surface.

With part of its mantle exposed on the surface, Vesta should provide a wealth of information for geologists, not to mention help “kick start” mining operations in the asteroid belt.

While Vesta provides a financial incentive to harvest the asteroid belt, Ceres may provide the “life necessities” for us to remain there. Rumored to harbor enough “fresh water” to rival our home world, Ceres may live up to its name and allow humanity to one day farm this world, helping to feed those who desire to live in this rocky region of space.

Although NASA’s Dawn mission may not appear as glamorous as a visit towards Mars or Jupiter, it may enable us to gain a wealth of information that will inevitably help fund our trip to the stars.

(Image: Ceres cut out, Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild)

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Is Asteroid Farming On Ceres Neccessary?

Posted by on Oct 13, 2006 in Asteroids, Blog, Ceres, Future, Solar Essay | 6 comments

One can not discuss colonizing the solar system without mentioning asteroid mining. Harvesting the asteroid belt for minerals and metals will be critical towards the future space economy as some worlds (such as Mars and Jupiter’s Galilean moons) lack the resources necessary to attract businesses and ultimately future colonists.

But in order to establish mining operations millions of miles away from habitable worlds, we need to find a way to feed those who will be doing the “dirty work” of mining these rocks that dance around our sun.

Although shipping food from Earth and Mars may be tolerable, it may impractical (not to mention expensive). Instead of shipping food, water and other items towards the asteroid belt, why not establish farming communities on Ceres instead?

Despite lacking known metallic resources that would make it attractive towards future space corporations, Ceres does have one element that would make this asteroid worth its weight in gold–water. Scientists believe that Ceres could contain up to 200 million cubic kilometers of fresh water–about five times as much as planet Earth.

By having access to a vast amount of liquid wealth, Ceres could easily grow the necessary food for future mining colonies, saving them both time and money as opposed to receiving rations from Earth.

Supplying future asteroid colonies with the necessary food will be difficult, if not nearly impossible as there are thousands (if not millions) of asteroids, each with its own chaotic orbit around the Sun. Without an orbital “ran de vue” point, permanent mining colonies may become “over looked,” resulting in outposts being abandoned simply because a space settlement ran out of food.

With the heart of the asteroid belt located around 2.7 AU (astronomical unit), Ceres lies in perfect position to supply future colonists with the necessary food supplies, as its orbit ranges between 2.55 and 2.98 AU. As the asteroid king makes its journey around the sun, mining colonies could be easily resupplied with food grown on the rocky world, enabling permanent outposts to focus on extracting minerals and precious metals.

Containing roughly 25% of the asteroid belts mass, Ceres may have the necessary gravity to allow for more plant life than would be possible in a micro gravity environment.

Although hovering around 3% (when compared to Earths), the gravity on Ceres may be tolerable to plant life, although humans may have to adjust to the low gravity by either finding chemicals to counter act atrophy or simply constructing artificial gravity space stations nearby.

Despite being recognized as a dwarf planet, Ceres will play a major role in mining operations within the asteroid belt, if not the solar system as a whole.

By simply acting as an agricultural world (or rather dwarf planet) it will save future Earth and (hopefully) Martian governments millions (if not billions) in transport costs, and may enable humanity to reap the rewards of harvesting the asteroid belt to the benefit of the human race.

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