Multiple countries are developing the ability to mine in space, specifically on the moon and on asteroids. The moon stands out as a nearby example of what will soon be the site of regular operations. The moon is home to hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of natural resources, including helium-3, titanium and other rare-earth metals.
Asteroid exploration, as demonstrated by landings and core sampling, will be the next stage of extraterrestrial economics. Early evidence suggests that there are trillions of dollars’ worth of minerals and metals buried in asteroids that come close to the Earth. These include phosphorus, antimony, zinc, tin, lead, indium, silver, gold and copper. One of the options is to process the asteroid on-site to bring back only processed materials, and perhaps produce propellant for the return trip.
While competition here is building, what we are seeing is nothing compared to what we will see in the coming years, once space mineral exploration becomes a reality. Here we will see a return to the gold rush days, with hundreds, if not, thousands of competitors entering the space exploration market, said Daniel Levitt, Bioz
Space is also predicted to be Mankind’s Next Frontier to ensure its long-term survival. With comparable advancements in astronautics, within the next hundred years or less, hundreds of thousands of humans can be living temporarily in self-powered habitats—called spacecraft—transiting the inhospitable environment of space without giving space travel a second thought. SpaceX, Blue Origin and others are working on making space travel feasible.
Space has also become another domain of Warfare with the militarization and weaponization of space and countries have established space commands and space forces to operate in this domain.
Space logistic requirements
Logistic support is also needed for delivery of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Boeing and other international partners have been working on a cost-effective and low-risk approach for implementing an ISS cargo transportation system. Rather than developing new space vehicles, the proposed approach seeks to leverage space assets that are existing or nearly complete, thereby avoiding substantial cost and risk
Space Force would require material that will be used for routine activities and operations, from the supply of food to the staff who’ll operate the missions to the re-usable technology that will allow humans to travel and work in space. Also included are critical materials such as fuel needed to support renewable energy sources within the spacecraft, oxygen to sustain life and spare parts that may be needed during the mission.
Space Force would be able to deliver ordnance, vehicles, supplies and personnel with an unmatched speed to any area of operations using special high-load thruster-powered space carriers that would dispatch resources from the orbit directly to any location on Earth.
Platforms for Space logistics
Logistic support requires space transportation systems like space planes and Reusable space rockets to bring back processed materials to earth. Reusable space rockets would be capable of delivering significant amounts of supplies necessary for rapid deployment of orbital structures and armaments.
Spaceplane is a winged vehicle that acts as an aircraft while in the atmosphere and as a spacecraft while in space. They operate at either a sub-orbital or an orbital level: a sub-orbital flight is one that reaches space but does not complete a full ‘orbit’ of the Earth. Sub-orbital spaceplanes will be able to insert small satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or into geostationary orbit.
The Air Force’s robotic space plane X-37B, a miniature version of the space shuttle, has flown multiple times on many secret missions. Like the retired space shuttle, X-37B launches aboard a rocket and flies back down to Earth after reentering the planet’s atmosphere.
Spaceplanes can enable intercontinental travel at very high speeds, travelling on a sub-orbital trajectory, journey times from the UK to Australia could be cut from the current duration of around 20 hours to as little as two hours. Commercial space vehicles designed to fly satellites into orbit could be used by the military one day to move cargo around the world.
SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, is one of the most powerful operational rocket in history. The achievement proves to the world that components can be successfully re-used to launch and lift relatively bigger supplies into outer space, underscoring the importance of streamlining multi-purpose inbound and outbound delivery operations in the near future.
Commercial space vehicles designed to fly satellites into orbit could be used by the military one day to move cargo around the world transforming military logistics.“It’s certainly in the cards and available to the military to develop over the next decade,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, California — a spinoff of suborbital spaceflight company Virgin Galactic.
China successfully launches advanced space cargo transport aircraft in May 2021
China has successfully launched an automated cargo resupply spacecraft to rendezvous with an orbiting module, in the second of a series of missions needed to complete its first permanent space station.
The Tianzhou-2, or Heavenly Vessel in Chinese, blasted off via a Long March-7 Y3 rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan in the South China Sea, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said on Saturday.
The aircraft is being developed using technology such as space inflatable deployment, flexible heat shielding and composite materials, enabling it to have a high bearing ratio at a low cost, said Lyu Dongming, board chairman of the Space Engineering Development Co. Ltd. under China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. Ltd.
New types of composite material cabins, and new types of environmental control and life support technology will be applied to achieve products that offer support for missions such as return transport of space cargo, and delivery and recovery of goods.
In the mid and long term, the aircraft will be actively involved in manned lunar exploration, Lyu said.
Global Military logistics
Military Logistics—the transfer of personnel and materiel from one location to another, as well as the maintenance of that materiel—is essential for a military to be able to support an ongoing deployment or respond effectively to emergent threats. More generally, protecting one’s own supply lines and attacking those of an enemy is a fundamental military strategy.
USAF fourth Vanguard program in June 2021 to use rockets for global military logistics
Under the Rocket Cargo Vanguard, the Air Force Research Laboratory will lead a science and technology effort to determine the viability and utility of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics, potentially expanding the portfolio of capabilities the USSF presents to combatant commanders. The Space and Missile Systems Center will serve as the Program Executive Officer.
Delivering cargo via rocket transportation is not a new concept. Historically the high costs of launch have been prohibitive for a logistics-focused application, and the relatively small payload capability constrained the types of cargo that could be delivered, also limiting its suitability. Today several commercial companies are quickly generating new opportunities by developing large rockets and reusable stages that safely land back on earth, expanding cargo capacity and dramatically reducing launch costs.
AFRL will research and develop the unique aspects needed to leverage the new commercial capability for the DoD logistics mission. This includes the ability to land a rocket on a wide range of non-traditional materials and surfaces, including at remote sites. In addition, AFRL scientists and engineers will research the ability to safely land a rocket near personnel and structures, engineer a rocket cargo bay and logistics for rapid loading and unloading, and air drop cargo from the rocket after re-entry in order to service locations where a rocket or aircraft cannot possibly land.
“The Air Force has provided rapid global mobility for decades and Rocket Cargo is a new way the Department can explore complementary capabilities for the future,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth. “Vanguard initiatives lead to game-changing breakthroughs that preserve our advantage over near-peer competitors, and this latest addition is also a significant milestone as the first Vanguard evaluated under the Space Force’s oversight.”
Based on the advertised commercial capability and business objectives, the AFRL is currently assessing emerging rocket capability across the commercial vendor base, and its potential use for quickly transporting DoD materiel to ports across the globe.
“Once realized, Rocket Cargo will fundamentally alter the rapid logistics landscape, connecting materiel to joint warfighters in a fraction of the time it takes today. In the event of conflict or humanitarian crisis, the Space Force will be able to provide our national leadership with an independent option to achieve strategic objectives from space, ” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond
“Rapid logistics underpins our ability to project power,” said Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., commander of Air Force Materiel Command. “That is the fundamental motivation for initiating the Rocket Cargo program. We see its initial applications in swiftly restoring operational capability for forces forward in austere environments as well as dramatically reducing the time required to deliver crucial humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
Space launch vehicles for global military logistics
Virgin Orbit modified a Boeing 747 to carry a two-stage expendable rocket to fly payloads into low earth orbit. Point to point travel using suborbital flight has been talked about for years, Hart said. “There’s no barrier to that.” If the military wanted to transport cargo across the globe, the technology is available to do that, but a lot of planning and engineering would be required.
“We do have technology in launch, re-entry systems and landers that show we can transport high value cargo and land it safely,” said Hart. A container coming from space could reenter the atmosphere using parachutes or gliding, like the military X-37 spaceplane does. “Some of those details would have to be worked out,” Hart said.
Space launch providers today are focused on putting up military and commercial payloads into space. The transportation of military cargo falls into the category of efforts that are further into the future. Launch would be the easy part. Other areas, like re-entry and recovery, would require the government to invest more time and money if it wants to transport cargo across the planet.
If a viable plan is developed, the potential benefits are significant, Hart said. “It would be urgency of delivery, if you needed a critical part, medical device or donor organ delivered across the globe in 90 minutes or even quicker.” Another option for the military would be to “preposition” cargo at spaceports for fast crisis response. “The easiest way would be to have it packaged within fairings. Then all you need to do is connect the fairing on to the rocket and go.”
He compared space-based cargo transportation to intercepting enemy ballistic missiles. “You’d have to operate much the way missile defense systems operate today. You don’t have a clear idea of where you’re going to go but you’ve done a lot of upfront engineering so you have trajectories that are pre-planned that can get you there.”
A typical space mission takes weeks or months to plan and conduct design reviews. “That is usually how space launch works,” Hart said. But if a system were engineered like missile defense, “a threat can pop up anywhere and the system automatically knows how to fly to it,” he said. “You’d have to do some development to automate the flight design. That is an engineering, not a technology problem.”
There is nothing particularly new about moving cargo in and out of space. “We have done a lot of that work as a country,” said Hart. “A lot of work has been done on thermal insulation, on trajectories, on how to fly from space to Earth.” Another option for the military would be to “preposition” cargo at spaceports for fast crisis response. “The easiest way would be to have it packaged within fairings. Then all you need to do is connect the fairing on to the rocket and go.”
US Military Partners With SpaceX
The US military is teaming up with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build a rocket capable of delivering weapons around the world at 7,500 mph.
Elon Musk join hands with the US military to build a rocket that is capable of delivering 80 metric tons of cargo anywhere in the world within an hour. The plan opens up prospect that of sending urgently needed supplies to U.S. troops anywhere on Earth, within minutes.
Transporting materials via rockets adds several advantages. C-17 Globemaster III, transporting heavy materials from the US to Japan at 500 miles per hour would take 12 hours. A rocket doing the same task would make the trip in 30 minutes or less.
They do not need a chain of aerial refuelling tankers supporting a mission. Also, unlike aircraft, they do not need permission to fly over foreign countries along a lengthy, winding flight route. Rockets are also, more survivable from enemy missiles and rockets.
As per the report, there are two possible methods of transportation that is being examined. The first alternative involves a straightforward flight from a space base in the continental U.S. abroad. Another alternative that is being examined includes prepositioning supplies in orbit on a spacecraft that could quickly de-orbit and land when necessary. Both alternatives would be capable of delivering materials within an hour to perfect position.
Patent Approved for Space Propulsion System Poised to Transform Orbital Space Logistics
Orbital logistics and space mining leader TransAstra Corporation announced in July 2022 that it has been granted a patent on a solar-thermal rocket engine that will revolutionize the rapidly expanding satellite industry, and accelerate the global space economy. TransAstra’s Omnivore™ solar-thermal thruster uses alternative propellants, including water, to power space tugs that deliver satellites faster, cheaper, safer through space
The company’s Omnivore™ thruster, which powers its Worker Bee space tugs, marks a significant departure from existing rocket propellant systems because it operates with multiple propellant types, including water, either individually or in combination, and is powered directly by the sun’s energy without the need for costly solar panels or electronics.
Most of today’s rocket engines use dangerous chemical reactions to heat, and accelerate propellant to produce thrust. The use of reactive chemical propellants is extremely dangerous, due to their explosive nature and carcinogenic risks, and exceedingly expensive, due to costs associated with regulatory compliance and soaring fuel prices. Other engines use solar-electric power, converting the sun’s energy into electricity with large, heavy solar panels. These are not only expensive – $10 million worth of solar arrays typically creates less than 1 Newton of thrust – but are also sluggish, requiring four days to accelerate from 0 mph to 60 mph. Poised to disrupt these space propulsion mainstays, Omnivore™ is typically ten times faster than electric propulsion at about one fifth the cost, and can use ordinary tap water as propellant, for an alternative that is clean, cheap, safe, and affordable.