NASA Buying Moon Dust For $1

The US space agency NASA awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday to collect lunar samples for $1 to $15,000, rock-bottom prices that are intended to set a precedent for future exploitation of space resources by the private sector.

“I think it’s kind of amazing that we can buy lunar regolith from four companies for a total of $25,001,” said Phil McAlister, director of NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Division.

The contracts are with Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado for $1; ispace Japan of Tokyo for $5,000; ispace Europe of Luxembourg for $5,000; and Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California for $15,000.

The companies plan to carry out the collection during already scheduled unmanned missions to the Moon in 2022 and 2023.

The firms are to collect a small amount of lunar soil known as regolith from the Moon and to provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material.

Ownership of the lunar soil will then be transferred to NASA and it will become the “sole property of NASA for the agency’s use under the Artemis program.”

Under the Artemis program, NASA plans to land a man and a woman on the Moon by 2024 and lay the groundwork for sustainable exploration and an eventual mission to Mars.

NASA has awarded contracts to four companies to collect lunar samples NASA has awarded contracts to four companies to collect lunar samples Photo: AFP / Laurent EMMANUEL

“The precedent is a very important part of what we’re doing today,” said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.

“We think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract, can take these resources but NASA can purchase and utilize them to fuel not only NASA’s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon,” Gold said.

“We must learn to generate our own water, air and even fuel,” he said. “Living off the land will enable ambitious exploration activities that will result in awe inspiring science and unprecedented discoveries.”

Any lessons learned on the Moon would be crucial to an eventual mission to Mars.

“Human mission to Mars will be even more demanding and challenging than our lunar operations, which is why it’s so critical to learn from our experiences on the Moon and apply those lessons to Mars,” Gold said.

“We want to demonstrate explicitly that you can extract, you can utilize resources, and that we will be conducting those activities in full compliance with the Outer Space Treaty,” he said. “That’s the precedent that’s important. It’s important for America to lead, not just in technology, but in policy.”

The United States is seeking to establish a precedent because there is currently no international consensus on property rights in space and China and Russia have not reached an understanding with the United States on the subject.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is vague but it deems outer space to be “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation,

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Japan Space Probe To Bring Asteroid Dust To Earth

Call it a special delivery: after six years in space, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe is heading home, but only to drop off its rare asteroid samples before starting a new mission.

The fridge-sized probe, launched in December 2014, has already thrilled scientists by landing on and gathering material from an asteroid some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth.

Hayabusa-2 will near Earth to drop off rare asteroid samples before heading back into deep space on a new extended mission Hayabusa-2 will near Earth to drop off rare asteroid samples before heading back into deep space on a new extended mission Photo: AFP / Behrouz MEHRI

But its work isn’t over yet, with scientists from Japan’s space agency JAXA now planning to extend its mission for more than a decade and targeting two new asteroids.

Before that mission can begin, Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu — “dragon palace” in Japanese.

Scientists are hoping the capsule will contain around 0.1 grams of material that will offer clues about what the solar system was like at its birth some 4.6 billion years ago.

Graphic explaining how Japan's Hayabusa-2 space probe will drop off asteroid samples to Earth before starting a new mission Graphic explaining how Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe will drop off asteroid samples to Earth before starting a new mission Photo: AFP / Janis LATVELS

The samples could shed light on “how matter is scattered around the solar system, why it exists on the asteroid and how it is related to Earth,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda told reporters ahead of Sunday’s drop-off.

The material is in a capsule that will separate from Hayabusa-2 while it is some 220,000 kilometres above Earth and then plummet into the southern Australian desert.

They were collected during two crucial phases of the mission last year.

Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu - 'dragon palace' in Japanese Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu – ‘dragon palace’ in Japanese Photo: JIJI PRESS / Handout

In the first, Hayabusa-2 touched down on Ryugu to collect dust before firing an “impactor” to stir up pristine material from below the surface. Months later, it touched down to collect additional samples.

“We may be able to get substances that will give us clues to the birth of a planet and the origin of life… I’m very interested to see the substances,” mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.

Half the material from Ryugu will be kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology Half the material from Ryugu will be kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology Photo: Jaumann et. al., Science 2019 / HO

Protected from sunlight and radiation inside the capsule, the samples will be collected, processed, then flown to Japan.

Half the material will be shared between JAXA, US space agency NASA and other international organisations, and the rest kept for future study as advances are made in analytic technology.

Videographic presenting the Hayabusa2 mission. Nearly six years after its launch from the Tanegashima space centre in Japan, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 is on the verge of completing its mission.
VIDEOGRAPHICS Videographic presenting the Hayabusa2 mission. Nearly six years after its launch from the Tanegashima space centre in Japan, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 is on the verge of completing its mission.

After dropping off its samples, Hayabusa-2 will complete a series of orbits around the sun for around six years — recording data on dust in interplanetary space and observing exoplanets.

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Is Arctic warming behind a monster Saharan dust storm?

dust storm
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The Sahara Desert is the world’s biggest source of dust and in 2020, it broke the June record for sending the largest and thickest dust cloud toward the Americas.

Amato Evan, an atmospheric scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, and colleagues have broken down the conditions that led to what some researchers call the “Godzilla” dust storm of 2020.

The June 2020 dust storm set records in terms of its geographic size and its aerosol optical depth—essentially a measure of its thickness determined by the ability of satellites to see through it. It reached an altitude of 6,000 meters (19,600 feet). In certain locations over the Atlantic Ocean, its thickness was double what had ever been recorded during the month of June during the history of the satellite record, which dates back to 1995.

The researchers analyzed what made it happen in a study appearing today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Evan, lead author Diana Francis of Khalifa University of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates, and colleagues attributed the dust storm’s magnitude to conditions set up by the development of a type of high-pressure system called a subtropical high off the coast of the Sahara. This increased the north-south pressure gradient over West Africa leading to record-strength, persistent northeasterly winds. The intensification of the northeasterly winds over the Sahara generated continuous dust emissions over several days in the second half of June 2020.

The researchers found that the subtropical high was embedded in a circumglobal wavetrain, a chain of wind patterns that extended around the planet, and was present in the Northern Hemisphere for most of June 2020. This wavetrain may have been caused by record-low Arctic sea ice extent observed in June 2020 as well. The warming of the Arctic region is believed to be altering the course of wind patterns in the mid-latitudes and subtropics and causing severe weather events, though there is controversy among scientists about this concept.

“The development of the subtropical high off the African coast had a deterministic role in both dust emissions and rapid westward transport of the airborne dust across the tropical Atlantic,” said Francis. “The clockwise circulation associated with the high, intensified the African Easterly Jet, a jet stream present over the Sahara around five kilometers (3.2 miles) in altitude, which rapidly transported the dust towards the Caribbean and southern United States.”

The global travel of dust has myriad consequences, affecting everything from weather to aircraft travel to the fertility of soil on continents thousands of miles away from the source of the dust. The dust provides important nutrients such as iron and other minerals to ocean ecosystems as well. Dust is also thought to have an influence on tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic Ocean through its effects on surface temperatures. Dust plumes are believed to cool the ocean surface by reflecting sunlight back to space, which in turn reduces the amount of energy available for a

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Abrasive Lunar Dust Threatens Long-Duration Moon Missions

When astronauts return to the moon, the European Space Agency wants more protection against the sharp lunar dust that was so difficult for the NASA Apollo astronauts of the 1960s and 1970s.

After walking on the moon in 1969, for example, Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad said one of the worst problems his crew faced was dust. He called it “one of the most aggravating, restricting facets of lunar surface exploration” due to its “restrictive friction-like action to everything it gets on.”

And it wasn’t just spacesuits that got affected by the dust. China’s Yutu-1 rover came to a standstill after a couple of months on the moon, and most scientists agree it was likely dust that caused the problem. The dust has a nasty tendency to stick in joints and in mechanical parts and to wear away even tough substances. One Apollo moon mission lost part of a rover fender due to dust abrasion, for example.

ESA is now looking into new materials that could stand up against what lunar dust, or regolith, has to throw it. It won’t be a single material that will solve the problem, officials say, but some sort of creative layering — composition to be determined. Discussions are ongoing with partners such as the French human factors specialist Comex, the German Institutes for Textile and Fiber Research, and citizen science organization the Austrian Space Forum.

Why is this dust so abrasive? It’s because the moon doesn’t have erosion at the same rate as Earth. From time to time a space rock will whack the surface and cause a crater and a bit of resettling, but the dust on the moon isn’t subject to the erosion processes that wind, rain and atmosphere create on Earth or Mars, for example.

“One of the key findings from Apollo was that the abrasion effects of the lunar regolith would be the major limiting factor in returning to the moon. We want to overcome that and enable spacesuits that could be used for many more spacewalks than the few [hours] performed per Apollo landing – up to 2,500 hours of surface activities is our assumption,” ESA structural engineer Shumit Das said in an agency statement.

Engineers are doing their best to simulate the abrasive results of lunar dust on materials, using a lunar-like artificial material called EAC-1A. In particular, engineers want to make sure that suit seals, rubber and any joints would not get too clogged or degraded from walking on the moon.

If the timeline holds, solutions will need to come soon. NASA and several international agencies (including ESA) plan to return humans to the moon by 2024, funding and priorities pending. This moon-landing is expected to be part of a larger moon program that will see an ecosystem of machines, habitats

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NASA Works To Head Off Losing Too Much Osiris-Rex Asteroid Dust

NASA said Friday that its robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex had succeeded in collecting a large sample of particles from the Bennu asteroid this week — but so much that it was leaking.

The team in charge of the probe is now working to quickly stow the remaining samples that would eventually be delivered back to Earth to provide key scientific insights.

“A substantial fraction of the required collected mass is seen escaping,” mission chief Dante Lauretta said in a phone briefing with journalists.

This NASA frame grab from a gif series captured by Osiris-Rex's camera on October 22, 2020 shows the sampler head on the spacecraft full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of the asteroid Bennu This NASA frame grab from a gif series captured by Osiris-Rex’s camera on October 22, 2020 shows the sampler head on the spacecraft full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of the asteroid Bennu Photo: NASA / Handout

Osiris-Rex is set to come home in September 2023, hopefully with the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era, which will help unravel the origins of our solar system.

The probe is thought to have collected some 400 grams of fragments, far more than the minimum of 60 grams needed, Lauretta said.

But the lid for the collector at the end of the probe’s arm where the fragments are being stored has been slightly wedged open by larger rocks, creating a leak, the scientists suspect.

This NASA image shows an artist's rendering of the Osiris-Rex spacecraft descending to collect a sample of the surface of asteroid Bennu This NASA image shows an artist’s rendering of the Osiris-Rex spacecraft descending to collect a sample of the surface of asteroid Bennu Photo: University of Arizona/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Handout

Five to 10 grams have already been observed around the collection arm in a cloud remaining more or less in the surrounding area due to the microgravity environment which makes fragments behave like fluids.

“My big concern now is that the particles are escaping because we were almost a victim of our own success here,” Lauretta said.

As a result, a plan to carry out a mass measurement on Saturday has been cancelled since it could risk scattering further samples.

The task is now to reduce as much as possible the spacecraft’s activities and prepare to stow the material in a capsule on the probe as quickly as possible.

Is Osiris-Rex, launched more than four years ago, at risk of losing its treasure? The volume of the leak is not yet precisely known, but the experts seemed relatively confident that would not be the case.

“Bennu continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing a few curveballs,” Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA associate administrator, said in a statement.

“And although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it’s not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment.”

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Are the Great Plains Headed for Another Dust Bowl? | Smart News

A new study shows dust storms have become more common and more severe on the Great Plains, leading some to wonder if the United States is headed for another Dust Bowl, reports Roland Pease for Science. With nearly half the country currently in drought and a winter forecast predicting continued dry weather for many of the afflicted regions, dust storms could become an even bigger threat.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl was caused by years of severe drought and featured dust storms up to 1,000 miles long. But the other driving force behind the plumes of dust that ravaged the landscape was the conversion of prairie to agricultural fields on a massive scale—between 1925 and the early 1930s, farmers converted 5.2 million acres of grassland over to farming, reported Sarah Zielinski for Smithsonian magazine in 2012.

Hardy prairie grasses would have likely withstood the drought, but crops covering the newly converted tracts swiftly bit the proverbial dust, which loosened the grip their roots had on the soil. High winds then whipped that loose soil into the huge clouds that blanketed the landscape with dust, including 1935’s Black Sunday which lifted 300,000 tons of the stuff skyward.

Besides blotting out the sun, dust storms strip valuable nutrients from the soils, making the land less productive, and create a significant health hazard at a time when a respiratory illness is sickening people around the world, according to Science.

dust graphic
A graphic representing the hazards of increasing atmospheric dust.

(Talie Lambert)

The new research, published earlier this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, used data from NASA satellites and ground monitoring systems to detect a steady increase in the amount of dust being kicked into the atmosphere every year, reports Brooks Hays for United Press International. The researchers found that levels of atmospheric dust swirling above the Great Plains region doubled between 2000 and 2018.

According to the paper, the increasing levels of dust, up to five percent per year, coincided with worsening climate change and a five to ten percent expansion of farmland across the Great Plains that mirrors the prelude to the Dust Bowl. Together, the researchers suggest these factors may drive the U.S. toward a second Dust Bowl.

“We can’t make changes to the earth surface without some kind of consequence just as we can’t burn fossil fuels without consequences,” says Andrew Lambert, a meteorologist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and the paper’s first author, in a statement. “So while the agriculture industry is absolutely important, we need to think more carefully about where and how we plant.”

Part of what allowed Lambert and his colleagues to tie the added dust in the sky to agriculture were clear regional upticks when and where major crops such as corn and soybeans were planted and harvested, per the statement. Ironically, much of the grassland that was converted to agriculture in recent years was not for food but for corn destined to become fodder for biofuels intended to

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NASA video shows Osiris-Rex probe landing on asteroid, kicking up dust

  • NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft landed on an asteroid to suck up a sample of rock and dust on Tuesday.
  • New video footage shows the tricky operation, including the six seconds that it touched the asteroid’s surface and blew nitrogen gas to send up a flurry of alien rock.
  • Mission controllers must now determine if the spacecraft obtained enough sample to bring back to Earth.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

NASA landed a spacecraft on an asteroid 200 million miles away on Tuesday.

New footage shows its tricky six seconds of contact and the flurry of alien rock that the probe sent flying in order to suck up a sample.

The mission, called Osiris-Rex, aims to return a sample of the asteroid to Earth. But landing on the asteroid, called Bennu, was no small feat. The terrain turned out to be much rockier than researchers expected, with Bennu covered in large boulders and rock fields that could have easily tipped over a robot trying to land. The safest spot the spacecraft could find was still quite rugged.

But the Osiris-Rex probe seemed to complete its 4-hour descent according to plan.

“Transcendental. I can’t believe we actually pulled this off,” Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator, said during NASA’s live broadcast of the operation. “The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do.”

With the spacecraft’s camera pointed toward its extended sample-collecting arm — and the asteroid surface beneath it — Osiris-Rex snapped photos throughout the operation. On Wednesday NASA released the resulting footage, which shows the critical stages of the touch-and-go operation. 

In the video above, the spacecraft’s sample-collection arm lands in the asteroid’s surface rubble — a rocky field with a sandy dust called regolith. One second later, the arm shoots nitrogen gas at the ground, which stirs up the rubble for about five seconds, filling the surrounding space.

In that whirlwind, some of the material should have circulated through the pod at the end of the sample-collection arm. That’s the regolith that Osiris-Rex will hopefully return to Earth.

Asteroids are made of ancient rock from the beginnings of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, and some scientists think they delivered key ingredients for life to Earth. So studying this primordial material could help scientists learn how life began.

Rock from this particular asteroid, called Bennu, could also help scientists design a plan to deflect it if its future path puts it at risk of an impact with Earth.

As it landed, Osiris-Rex appeared to crush a rock beneath it. That’s good news, according to Lauretta, since it makes it more likely the spacecraft collected a good sample. Crushed, powdery rock is more likely to swirl around and fill the sampling instrument.

“These rocks might be very weak compared to what we’re used to on Earth,” Lauretta said.

osiris rex landing crush rock

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The rock Osiris-Rex collects may be very different from any alien rock samples we have here on Earth. Meteorites sometimes fall through Earth’s atmosphere and land on

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Dust Bowl 2.0? Rising Great Plains dust levels stir concerns | Science