NewSpace Entrepreneurs at EPSC 2013

This briefing brought together Planetary Scientists with
NewSpace Entrepreneurs to examine timescales, opportunities for different
stakeholders and commercial reward from private space companies and the
opportunities that exist for planetary scientists in looking at the feasibility
of these ventures to open up a new frontier.
James Carpenter from the European Space Agency, chaired the
session, citing the benefits this could bring to planetary science and how exciting
it is to see new ventures emerge over the last few years.
“There have been initiatives from various quarters, building
on work done by governmental agencies in the last decades to try to make space
an economical place to go and explore. If this can be realised, this can yield
some real benefits, for economics, for science, really open up space as a
frontier, which personally as an enthusiast I find very exciting.”

Professor John Zarnecki from the Open
University would “love to see the doubters proved wrong. I’m sitting on the
bench, but I’d like to see my more cynical colleagues being made to eat their
“We are nothing if not opportunistic; give us opportunity
and we’ll take it. Though, I’d like to respectfully remind future space
entrepreneurs that you’ll probably always need us in some way or another. It is
space scientists that have given us a detailed picture of the space environment,
for example space science has told us what a comet nucleus looks like.”
“Only a few years ago, 1986, we had the first image of
cometary nucleus – before then we didn’t even know it was a solid object. Next
year with the Rosetta mission, we will attempt an outrageous landing on a cometary
nucleus, on 10th Nov 2014, at 10.30am in the morning, and measure
with exquisite precision the composition of a cometary nucleus.”
“The Moon and Mars are obvious targets for future activities,
again composition, we’ve learnt pretty well, and the dust – dust is going to
provide one of the real limits to activities there. Space scientists are looking
at how toxic and damaging this potentially is to equipment and people. Just a
few days ago we had the launch of LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment
Explorer), targeted to study dust in lunar environment specifically.”
“The list goes on, we can tell you the best place to put
your base camp, the best place to drill, the best place to look for water. And
what will we ask in return? All we want is access to interesting places, to the
Moon, Mars and interplanetary space. Take us there, give us a little bit of
aperture, electrical power, a bit of data rate and that’s it, we are very good
at dreaming up ways of using these opportunities with new instruments and we
heard some of the potential possibilities in the session this morning. We can
be very creative with very limited resources.”
“Let me finish by reiterating the challenge to new space entrepreneurs:
basically to prove the doubters wrong. I would be very happy if many of my
colleagues had to eat humble pie so I look forward to an exciting and new
future for science in space.”
Professor Doug Currie, University
of Maryland wants to see science experiments returned to the Moon after 40
“45 years ago we sent some fancy reflective mirrors to the
moon, which are still working and we are still getting new science out of them.
Some of the results from this for example, 10 years ago we discovered it had a
liquid molten core, we’ve also got the best test of the strong equivalence
principle and the constancy of the gravitational constant.”
“What this has done is to severely limit all of the theories
that are being proposed to try to explain dark matter and dark energy. However
over the last 40 years our ground stations have got better by a factor of 200.
That means that today, the single shot accuracy is limited by combination of
our design and the lunar vibrations.”
“In order to address this, I’m leading an effort to put next
generation reflectors on the moon. One of the major problems is getting there. There
does not seem to be a manned mission from NASA or ESA on the horizon, there doesn’t
even seem to be a robotic mission from either of these, at least not in my
time. The rescue is coming from the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) people, this
has stimulated a number of commercial groups that want to carry things to the
moon and provide safe landers. I’ve been working with a number of these for LLRRA-21
(Lunar Laser Ranging Retroreflector for the 21st Century) like Moon Express Inc.”
“We don’t just want to put it on a lander or surface,
ideally want to drill down 1m to where temperature is constant.  Astro-robotic landers: this process of
commercial space delivery initiated by GLXP is opening a new paradigm. In
future space science projects can be accomplished for tens of millions of
dollars, not hundreds nor millions. This means national agencies like the National
Science Foundation, or science agencies in other countries can participate in
space science, those are the kind of things they can work with. It will be a
new era in the exploration of space.”
“For LLRRA21, we need the taxi fare, as the people I’m
working with don’t do it for free. On the other hand the federal agencies need
a cultural change in order to support commercial flights. We’re applying to the
National Science Foundation in the US and the Italian space agency.”
“You might wonder why we have such an interest in gravity?
For the past five centuries gravity has been the centre of what we understand
for the universe. Brahe, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, all great minds who had
studied this and settled the question, right? Not quite. Today as we look out
into the universe, Einstein and Newton knew less than 1% of what the universe
is composed of (74% dark energy, 22% dark matter).”
“We must keep pushing for more measurements, more accuracy,
to understand what’s going on. We must push to the limit of current technology.
Finally, interest in the Moon seems to come in cycles. Hopefully we are seeing
a new realisation that our nearest neighbour is the Rosetta stone to the
history of the solar system.”

 Alex Hall, representing the Google Lunar X-Prize team, laid
out the conditions for the $30 million prize: to land a robot on the Moon, drive
at least 500m and transmit back high definition images and video, with the
stipulation that the company must be at least 90% privately funded. Dozens of
teams from more than 20(?) countries have taken up the challenge to come up
with innovative ways of landing softly and doing something useful.
“The competition launched in 2007, and the end date for the competition
is the end of 2015. At this point in time we are fairly confident of a couple
of launches in 2015 time frame. 2007-2015 might seem like an age but on the
timescales that most of the esteemed planetary scientists at this conference
are used to, that’s really quick.”
“Planetary scientists have to conceive of the work they’re
going to do, apply for potential mission opportunities, work to get
detectors/equip built, and eventually work to get that launch into space or to
the object they’re interested in studying. Those timelines can be a decade or
more – it really can be that long. Even though the GLXP timeline does feel
short, significant progress is being made, many teams are significantly down
the path for funds they need, the largest chunk being need to pay for their
ride off the surface of the earth. Innovative machine vision systems, hazard
avoidance systems, etc have been developed, we are also seeing a lot of partnerships
being created, between commercial teams, non-profit organisations, government
agencies, research institutions. We are even seeing partnerships between teams
of the GLXP which is entirely consistent with the goals of the prize.”
“Of course we want to see a winner, a 2nd place
winner and bonus prize winners. Our goals are to stimulate this new space
economy, expand space influence to the Moon, establish pathways to being able to
do things off earth, on the Moon, in efficient ways with a fast turnaround.”
“I can already say the GLXP has been successful in this goal
of stimulating the new space economy simply because of the hundreds of people
we have pursuing this in the timescale with these partnerships and jobs”
“Going back to the idea of timescale, while GLXP is 8 year
competition, if you think forward a decade or more after GLXP will be run, then
I think we will see a landscape where commercial space will be an option. You
won’t just have to wait for governments to decide if they will go to the Moon
or not (as has happened in both America and Europe). We will see there are cost
effective alternatives in the private sector; if you really want to find out
about something, you will have an option to place your bets on a commercial
“The big gorilla in the room is always ris. With billions of
dollars of taxpayer money, tolerance for risk is extremely low, which is part
of the reason government missions cost so much. Being able to send things to
the moon for tens of millions, you may have to do it twice to succeed but it
would still cost a lot less than current alternatives and it would have a
faster timescale. We have teams reaching sufficient levels of design that they
can start talking to the planetary community about potential available payload
“We have now reached a point in competition where we need to
put together our judging panel; I am pleased to announce we have concluded our
international search and Professor John Zarnecki will be one of them. We very
much appreciate his skills and view point.”