Comparison of material sources and customer locations for commercial space resource utilization

Vergaaij, M. , McInnes, C. R. and Ceriotti, M. (2021) Comparison of material sources and customer locations for commercial space resource utilization. Acta Astronautica, 184, pp. 23-34. (doi: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2021.03.010)

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Space resource utilization (SRU) can be a catalyst for a growing space economy. Significant reductions in cost, launch mass and risk for human and robotic activities beyond Earth can be achieved. Commercial entities will have the opportunity to generate revenue through economic development, allowing for a decreased dependency on governmental agencies for the exploration of space. A wide variety of materials can be found on planetary and small solar system bodies, which are potentially of great use to customers in space. This paper conducts a comparison of the economic and commercial potential of SRU on the surface of the Moon, Mars, a representative near-Earth asteroid and a representative main-belt asteroid. In particular, mining of water will be considered which will be electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen using solar power. Coupled economic and trajectory optimization then results in the minimum specific cost to deliver propellant (LOX/LH) from these bodies to a number of customer locations. Customers on the surface of or in orbit around the Earth, Moon, and Mars are investigated, along with Psyche, a large metallic main-belt asteroid. Using a cost model that considers technology maturation to allow current aviation-like costs to be used for development and manufacturing, missions are optimized. Results show that for customers beyond low-Earth orbit, SRU should be used instead of launching water-derived resource directly from the Earth. In particular, near-Earth asteroids are shown to be in an attractive location for mining, processing and delivering a large quantity of LOX/LH at a low specific cost, for customers in the vicinity of the Earth and the Moon, including nearby collinear Lagrange points. Exceptions are customers on the surface of the Earth and the Moon, who, together with customers on the surface of Mars, are better off mining and processing on that same surface. A sensitivity analysis shows that, for all investigated customers except Psyche, there are near-Earth asteroids available which can be used to deliver water-derived resources for a lower specific cost than the most ideal main-belt asteroid. Only once these near-Earth asteroids have been depleted, mining main-belt asteroids and transporting resources back to a customer in the vicinity of the Earth is worth considering.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Ceriotti, Dr Matteo and McInnes, Professor Colin and Vergaaij, Miss Merel
Authors: Vergaaij, M., McInnes, C. R., and Ceriotti, M.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering
College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering > Systems Power and Energy
Journal Name:Acta Astronautica
ISSN (Online):1879-2030
Published Online:08 April 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 IAA
First Published:First published in Acta Astronautica 184:23-34
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
172105Ultra-low energy trajectories for near Earth asteroid capture and returnColin McInnesThe Royal Society (ROYSOC)WM150013ENG - Systems Power & Energy
306654Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging TechnologiesColin McInnesRoyal Academy of Engineering (RAE)02/08/2019ENG - Systems Power & Energy