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Guest: Dr. George Sowers; Topics: Perseverance Mars Landing, mining lunar ice, lunar propellant, space resource utilization, space commercialization, property rights and more.
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We welcomed Dr. George Sowers back to the program to discuss the landing of the new Mars rover, Perseverance, and the full Mars 2020 mission. During our 94 minute program, we covered multiple topics including the Colorado School of Mines Space Resource program, lunar development, why space resources, commercialization and markets plus technologies and various industry segments. Policy discussions, national security space, and international competition were all part of our conversation.
We started with an introduction to the graduate level Space Resource program at the Colorado School of Mines. Our guest described the student mix, some of their associations and activities within the space community plus many of the companies and project now being carried out and managed by their students. Our guest quickly started talking about the Perseverance rover now on Mars and the MOXIE experiment designed to create O2 from the CO2 in the Martian atmosphere. George explained the process and told us why this was an important experiment. Our conversation then changed to talking about space resources in general which our guest said was not economical at this point in time. Be sure to listen to all of what George said on this subject.
Todd sent us an email wanting to compare getting resources from the Moon with those from Mars. George brought up lunar propellant and said that if we were able to use lunar propellant to go to Mars it would save us around $12 billion in costs. He told us about a reviewed article he has coming out on this topic in an upcoming issue of the NewSpace Journal. In talking about resources, George was asked about rare Earth minerals. He said he was skeptical about their value so listen to his explanation. He then said that He3 might pan out down the road.
Fremont John called to ask George if he did a follow up to his NIAC 1 Grant Award re ice harvesting. He said Phase 2 was turned down and he then did a LuSTR (Lunar Surface Technology Research) application. He is now waiting to see if he won the award or not. Fremont suggested that George help get Dr. Kevin Cannon on the show. George and John discussed this and I will be following the suggestion up with our guest.
George was asked if returning to the Moon was and should be a high priority. he said yes and then talked about the return policy under Trump and what he hoped it would be with the Biden Administration. Once again don't miss this excellent discussion. Kim called in from Mexico wanting to know if mining technologies on Earth would be similar to those implemented on the Moon. George said TBD! He then talked about water, blasting and excavation. Note that he said that water and He3 were likely in the first meter of lunar regolith which made it much easier for mining. Following Kim's call, a listener asked George what he thought the mix might be for robots and humans in resource utilization. He mentioned that humas were very costly and would be used only as needed. He addressed teleoperations and related topics.
Listener Karen asked how the privates would pursue mining if they did not have some form of space property rights. George had much to say on this topic so do listen to our extensive property rights discussion. Following the property rights commentary, Dr. Doug called to ask about dexterous robots for space usage, including the space resource and mining industry. George addressed Doug's questions, then turned again to He3 in some detail.
I asked George what he thought would happen to commerce, resource usage and the related if the new administration classified space as a commons. Again, our guest had much to say but then near the end of his detailed discussion, he said it might stop the industry. Dallas was our next caller as he wanted to inquire about a space strategic propellant reserve. George liked the idea and explained why. We also talked timelines and the importance of there being lunar water resources.
Randy via email asked George if he thought that down the road the new Space Force might engage in rescue with individuals, business folks, tourists getting in trouble n space much the way the Coast Guard rescues people in trouble now. No estimate for when that capability might become reality. George was the asked about the investment reports suggesting huge future values for the space industry and certain segments of it. To respond, he used his old ULA program, Cislunar 1000, as an example. After telling his story, he said the bottom line was that it was very hard to predict future values. In this part of the discussion, he mentioned a few entrepreneurial companies plus Redwire.
China and our space policy concerns came up when a Chicago listener asked if it was important for us to be on the Moon before China is (with people) and if so, why. To respond to this question, George addressed several subtopics, even water ice and the why of it being such an important resource. He talked about free access, resource protection, the terms of the OST and other indications of "rules" for the Moon. One phrase he said was that "water is the oil of space." Another slogan was something on the order of the rules for the Moon and free access for space were as important as the rules for free shipping and access with the Persian Gulf. George was then asked to tell us what he thought would be going on with the Moon in ten years. For starters, he thought there would be progress and what he wanted to see was a free market for lunar commerce and research. In this discussion, our guest talked about the upcoming NASA Viper Mission designed to specifically look for water. George talked about a COTS like Public Private Partnership and good business opportunities now and extending to the ten year period suggested in the original question.
As part of the summary, I asked our guest about his students, their vision, their motivation, and the why of their engaging in advanced space resource usage programs. George had lots to say about the students, their level of innovation, inspiration, goals, their embracing new technologies like SSP satellites for baseload and more. Before ending, I asked George for his thoughts on space settlement.
Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this show. You can reach our guest through me or through his faculty website at The Colorado School of Mines.