Today’s Top Space Headline –“It’s About Expanding Earth! Over the Next 10 Years, Space Will Become an Industrial Zone Filled with Orbiting Factories”

 

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"Over the next 10 years, space will become an industrial zone filled with orbiting factories. Like oil platforms on the ocean, but not polluting,” says entrepreneur Jason Dunn, Made In Space’s co-founder and chief technology officer. "We could have structures in space so big, they could be the backbone of huge internet telecommunications antenna,” Dunn says. “Or a giant space station colony, or giant arrays of solar panels. Or we could send robots to the surface of the moon, or Mars, and use resources there to build habitats.”


In the summer of 2010, writes Olivia Solon in today's Guardian, Dunn moved to California to attend Singularity University, an educational program and business incubator co-founded by Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize, a non-profit organisation that stages lucrative competitions to reward teams who develop breakthrough innovations, which focuses on “exponential” technologies such as artificial intelligence and driverless cars.

 

The private space companies that attract the most attention – Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Virgin Galactic or Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin – prioritise fulfilling the original promise of the space shuttle: making access to space cheaper, by building reusable or larger rockets. Dunn, Chen and Kemmer asked a different question: “What if we didn’t need to launch anything at all?”

Asking that question meant they were no longer restricted to dimensions of space objects that could be packed inside a rocket and able to survive the shuddering forces of a launch from Earth.

There are already several companies – including Axiom Space, with which Made In Space has formed a partnership, and Bigelow Aerospace – building commercial space stations that could house manufacturing equipment in orbit within a couple of years, Dunn notes.

Eventually, he says, people will go to the factories in space to work in much the same way as oil riggers do. “Although most of the manufacturing will be automated, you need people to fix and maintain the robots. It might not be pretty, it might not be that safe, but they will make a good living and then come back home.” Others will pay to go on “cruise ships”, either to orbit Earth or “do a nice week-long trip around the moon”. Companies such as Blue Origin and SpaceX are making “huge strides in delivering humans into space safely”.

The relationship between orbiting factories and launch companies will be symbiotic. “They are really opening the frontier of space,” Dunn says. “We built our company on the promise of what they are creating; they are building their companies based on the hope that Made In Spaces will exist.” He is close-lipped about specific commercial relationships with the launch companies, but says that his company is “actively working” with some of them.

Over time, manufacturers will start to populate Earth’s orbit, starting at lower altitudes and working their way out in concentric circles until they reach the moon. Made In Space is even preparing for a lunar colony by developing “rego” bricks, made by combining a special polymer with simulated moon dust (regolith). The bricks, which look like samples of paving stones in various shades of grey, are heavy and feel plasticky. In theory, a brick-making autonomous vehicle could use the dust on the surface of the moon to construct housing ahead of astronauts’ arrival.

In the image at the top of the page, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) see the world at night on every orbit — that’s 16 times each crew day. An astronaut took this broad, short-lens photograph of Earth’s night lights while looking out over the remote reaches of the central equatorial Pacific Ocean. ISS was passing over the island nation of Kiribati at the time, about 2600 kilometers (1,600 miles) south of Hawaii.

Knowing the exact time and the location of the ISS, scientists were able to match the star field in the photo to charts describing which stars should have been visible at that moment. They identified the pattern of stars in the photo as our Milky Way galaxy (looking toward its center). The dark patches are dense dust clouds in an inner spiral arm of our galaxy; such clouds can block our view of stars toward the center.

The curvature of the Earth crosses the center of the image and is illuminated by a variety of airglow layers in orange, green, and red. Setting stars are visible even through the dense orange-green airglow. The brightest light in the image is a lightning flash that illuminated a large mass of clouds. The flash reflected off the shiny solar arrays of the ISS and back to the camera. The dim equatorial cloud sheet is so extensive that it covers most of the sea surface in this view.

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