New Trends in Astrodynamics and Applications

Space Studies Institute is cosponsoring New Trends in Astrodynamics and Applications III, an International Conference at Princeton University, August 16, 17 and 18.

For obvious reasons SSI has a particular interest in new types of low energy trajectories, motion near LaGrange points, halo orbits, weak stability boundaries and (relatively) low thrust transfers. SSI has a project to develop small, cheap asteroid probes using a solar sail that could be used to fly by a large number of asteroids on a single mission, so we are particularly interested in mission concepts incorporating low energy trajectories as well as the underlying numerical methods and algorithms for orbit and trajectory optimization.

The conference homepage is The speaker list is excellent and the preceding conferences have been very productive. I hope to see many SSI associates there.

SSI Executive Vice President Lee Valentine will give a talk. For the abstract,

Critical Trajectories for the Human Settlement of the High Frontier

If preservation and prosperity of humanity on the Earth and human settlement of space are our goals, we should concentrate on a commercial path to get there. Commercial enterprise has a long history of fortuitously aiding scientific progress. We expect radical changes in the cost of earth to orbit transportation, and in the methods and efficacy of deep space transportation, within the next two decades.

A successful space tourism industry, beginning with suborbital tourism, will greatly drive down the cost of access to orbit over the next 15 years. Inexpensive transportation to low Earth orbit is the first requirement for a great future on the High Frontier. Inexpensive means the cost associated with a mature transportation system. A mature system has a cost of three to five times the cost of the propellant. The first cheap, reliable and highly reusable rocket engines are just now appearing in vehicles. With an assured market and high flight rate, the heretofore glacial progress in reducing the cost of space transportation is likely to become rapid. This is the first critical enabling example of synergy between free market economics and scientific and technical progress in space. It will not be the last.

The new high power switches and ultracapacitors developed for the automotive market make possible cheap robust and reliable mass driver engines. In space construction, using masses of nonterrestrial materials make the gravity tractor technique much more capable than previous schemes for asteroid mining. Ion propulsion will continue to improve and the first solar sails will be flown.

The evolution from small tourist stations of the next decade to large space hotels will necessitate incorporation of fully closed life-support systems. These could be considered the first space colonies. Derivatives of these commercial space hotels may form suitable asteroid mining habitats.

Nonterrestrial materials are the key to opening the space frontier. Dozens of rendezvous missions to NEOs must be undertaken both to assay these resources and to plan rational NEO diversion. The development of NEO mining techniques serves two purposes, raw materials supply and planetary defense. We need economical trajectories to and from these bodies. These trajectories must not only be economical in terms of delta V or time, but in dollars; and in the time value of money, a factor not generally considered by the OMB.

Advanced robotics will allow remarkable improvements in productivity. Robots entered the Moore’s law curve less than decade ago. Humans will be required for the foreseeable future in repair and supervisory roles, particularly in an unstructured setting like an asteroid mine.

Satellite solar power stations may be $1 trillion per year market worldwide and cheap nickel steel from asteroids may be the critical enabler of this technology. We need to find just one asteroid of the right size and composition in a suitable orbit to open this market. Platinum group metals may be an important export, either as a primary product, or as a byproduct of nickel steel alloy production. Other products, derived from carbon, may also be important. The first economical product from an asteroid mine, though, may be water, either for propellant or for life-support and for shielding in space hotels.