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Guest: Dr. George Sowers; Topics: Executive Order on space resources, The Artemis Project, returning to the Moon, NIAC Phase 1 study, Colorado School of Mines Space Resources program
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We welcomed Dr. George Sowers back to the program for a 76 minute discussion about our returning to the Moon, the new Executive Order (E.O) regarding space resources, the International Artemis project, lunar mining and the thermal mining Phase 1 NIAC award plus the Colorado School of Mines Space Resources graduate program. We started the discussion with our guest by talking about the new E.O. and government support for lunar and space mining, defacto property rights and the continuation of policy per the 2015 Commercial Space Act. Most of the first part of our program was spent discussing the Executive Order, returning to the Moon, the needed technology to overcome challenges, processes involved, plus capabilities and needed infrastructure.
As our discussion unfolded, our guest took us through a comprehensive set of challenges, needs, and policies to get us back to the Moon, create wealth on the Moon by making rocket fuels out of the water ice that is probably there and more. Since much of what was talked about actually requires there being sufficient water on the Moon in usable forms, Dr. Sowers talked about the need to confirm the presence of water in commercial qualities at the lunar poles or elsewhere on the lunar surface. He said the quantites are not yet confirmed though through remote sensing, imaging, and the use of other techniques are largely thought to be there. Much of our discussion centered on precursor missions to confirm the water plus he described the processes available to use the water and make rocket fuel. George received multiple listener emails during this discussion with both technical and engineering questions.
Another part of the decision took place much later in the program when Paul sent in a note asking if there was a lunar development Plan B if it turned out there was insufficient water on the moon for what had been talked about up to this point. Surprisingly, there was a Plan B which Dr. Sowers described. Don't miss what our guest said about getting O2 out of lunar rocks and related technologies, i.e. Plan B. That said, before getting to Plan B, George discussed both robotic and human landers, and the need to develop the maintenance and operating capabilities for rovers on the lunar surface. Listeners brought up questions about the landers, how to keep them running, and the challenges due to the problems of lunar dust. In talking about the lunar dust issues, our guest mentioned our experience with rovers and technology and Martian dust though he said many times lunar dust presented more challenging problems that Martian dust. Still, he thought we would develop mitigation hardware for lunar equipment to work on the lunar surface. Don't miss some of his suggestions in this area.
Linda sent in a note about human outposts and where they might be located. Our guest talked about challenges with lunar light and the 14 day night day cycle, mostly at the equator. He also talked about light advantages at the lunar south pole with suggestions on how to develop outposts, do mining operations and get light to where it was needed.
Ft. Worth John called to talk inflatable lunar structures, landers, and a landing pad. Communication challenges were mentioned by our guest plus propellant issues were discussed along with a full scale cislunar commercial development program. Following the Ft. Worth John call, Paul asked the Plan B questions mentioned earlier in this summary. Fremont John called to ask our guest about his Phase `1 NIAC award and to find out if there would be a Phase 2 NIAC award. Dr. Sowers described his Phase 1 award which focused on a thermal mining process for lunar resources but said it was not approved for a Phase 2 award. He briefly spoke to some of the competing technologies for lunar resource extraction and development.
Alice from NYC asked our guest if he was familiar with the Christie’s Auction in the UK of a Moon meteorite found in the Sahara Desert per this Forbes article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2020/05/02/super-rare-moon-meteorite-found-in-sahara-desert-goes-on-sale-for-25-million/#221c5d55740e/ George was not familiar with this particular auction or lunar meteorite but we did talk about Moon meteorites found on Earth as not being that unusual.
Our final call was with Chuck Lauer who wanted to talk big picture lunar system architecture and engineering, space tugs and related items along with their development. George talked about the importance of developing cislunar businesses and infrastructure, propellant storage and using NASA or government buying power as an enabler for commercial development. He said such buying power was better than using cost plus contracting. During this discussion, the Lunar VIPER mission planned for 2022 was mentioned. See here for mission details: www.space.com/nasa-viper-moon-rover-launching-in-2022.html. VIPER will rove on the Moon looking for and evaluating water and volatiles.
As we were about to conclude our discussion, George told up about the Colorado School of Mines Space Resources graduate program. If you are interested, this sounds like a terrific program with multiple degree program options. Check it out.
Please post your comments/questions for Dr. Sowers on our blog for this show. You can reach our guest through me or his faculty website page at the Colorado School of Minds.