2020 Space Mining News Roundup
While most of us were busy managing our priorities during the Covid19 pandemic, dedicated engineers and scientists across the globe were continuing their work to expand humanity's knowledge base and technological know-how in the sphere of space mining and resource extraction. We'd like to take a moment to revel in the accomplishments of what a big year 2020 really was.
No doubt, of greatest significance were the many return sample missions that concluded in 2020, and we feel that the success of these missions has closed the mouths of quite a few nay-sayers on the possibility of space mining. In fact over the many years that the WSMCR has been open, we noted a significant drop in people saying that asteroid mining was a fantasy with this last year. We really have got past the doubting stage.
In October, NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid Bennu mission successfully sampled its rocky surface to the order of a whole kilogram. We wait with excitement to hear about the mineral content of their sample, but it still needs to get to earth!
The Japanese (JAXA) however are the real current trailblazers in return missions, because in December they did it again with their Hayabusa2 mission, which sampled 162173 Ryugu and successfully landed its sample payload on earth for thorough analysis.
China's space program is quickly catching up with the other space agencies, with its successful lunar sample mission Chang'e 5 sampling an impressive 2 kilograms of drilled lunar surface material. Not just that, but China's lunar rover Yutu 2 heroically examined a unique glassy, breccia-like mineral on the far side of the moon. That's exactly the kind of techniques we space miners love to see being exercised!
It looks like everyone is getting excited about Mars as three separate missions were launched in 2020. With July being optimal conditions here on earth and with planetary alignment between Earth and Mars, the three were launched this month: the Hope spacecraft launched by the UAE (a first for the Arab states!), Tianwen-1 from China, and the United States Perseverance, more on this one later.
A year can hardly go by without everyone's favorite SpaceX making waves and continuing to push their technological assets forward. Two crewed missions to the ISS for the first time prove that SpaceX has truly accomplished space operations in the private sector, which is yet another stepping stone for private sector space mining.
We should also take a moment of silence for the loss of the Arecibo Observatory, which due to the failure of two structural cables, finally gave way and collapsed after decades of service to astronomy. Many of us may remember the iconic structure in popular culture, and it maintained usefulness even after the Cold War when it was created to test the ionosphere for rocket penetration. For us, it represents the pursuit of knowledge no matter how big the idea or plan, and as space mining technologists with equally big ideas, we will always have a place in our hearts for the memory of Arecibo.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA