Chandrayaan 2: one small step towards mining the moon?
Right now, 238,855 miles away (provided it’s nighttime and give or take the distance from London to Anchorage, Alaska, which is spookily similar to the diameter of the Earth) the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) craft, the Chandrayaan-2, is moving in orbit around the moon. Currently, it is passing over the lunar poles at a distance of about 62 miles, or the distance between Central London and Milton Keynes if you stay off the M1. If the craft lands - which it is scheduled to do on 7 September, it will make India the fourth country to successfully perform a soft landing on the moon.
But, beyond exploration and national pride, what could India have to gain from landing on the Moon? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Commercial space activity was reportedly worth a total of $350bn in 2018. By 2026, that figure is projected to grow to more than $558bn, and by 2040, the market might reach as high as $1trn. As the technology behind hardware launch and recovery, nano satellites and ever expanding communications networks accelerates, companies and governments capable of shooting things into space for money are going to be tapping into a massive growth market.
When President Kennedy publicly announced that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he kickstarted a period of aerospace funding that saw NASA receive more than 4% of the annual federal budget, an astronomical amount of money.
The Satellite economy is already attracting more and more investors to the market, with firms like SpaceX already established as private sector alternatives, and public agencies like NASA hitching rides on Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy Rockets, the world’s governments need to find intelligent ways to remain in space, in addition to pioneering legislative and regulatory approaches. Given that NASA now receives less than 0.5% of the federal budget, this is no mean feat.
While the next decade of space based industry will likely revolve around satellite manufacturing and transportation, the next growth area of space industry is expected to be “in-situ resource utilisation”: the harvesting of materials from space in order to power equipment. By harvesting resources from space, companies can keep vehicles outside the Earth’s atmosphere permanently, removing the need for expensive, resource inefficient and costly launches and dangerous re-entries.
Check out three organizations looking to kickstart the new space-based economy.
The ISRO has no plans to rest on its laurels, should the Chandrayaan 2 go off without a hitch. The organisations has one of the most crowded to do lists of any spacefaring company or agency in the world, with plans to carry out an ambitious 36 launches in the next two years. Following its Moon mission, Chandrayaan 2 is going to be heading for the Sun’s corona later by 2020.
“Life on Earth in the future will not be sustainable without satellite-based space infrastructure. Communications, agriculture, transportation, finance, environmental sustainability, as well as a variety of industries will all depend on this extraterrestrial infrastructure,” or so says iSpace, a Japanese robotics company looking to explore the possibility of lunar water to support a moon-based economy.
The first company of its kind in the UK (as the name might suggest), the Asteroid Mining Corporation was founded in 2016 by space mining enthusiast Mitch Hunter-Scullion. Scullion believes that mining near-Earth celestial bodies for minerals and resources could both be a lucrative opportunity and also may be the key to humanity escaping the resource limitations of our planet. A report released this week claimed that the asteroid mining market could to register a CAGR of more than 20% during the forecast period of 2019 to 2038.
Amazon test new technology to improve employee safety
At the Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Boston, and Northern Italy, team members are testing and developing new technologies in order to help to make employees’ jobs safer, these include technologies that help move carts and packages through Amazon facilities.
Recently the safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.
A spokesperson from Amazon said the company spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.
One innovation being tested by Amazon, which is in early development, is the use of motion-capture technology to assess the movement of volunteer employees in a lab setting. These employees perform tasks that are common in many Amazon facilities, such as the movement of totes, which carry products through robotic fulfillment centers.
The motion-capture software enables Amazon scientists and researchers to more accurately compare data captured in a lab environment to industry standards rather than other modelling tools traditionally used by ergonomists.
“With this data, visualisations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,” said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon. “Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.”
Autonomous Robots creating new paths to safety
In order to reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, Amazon is testing a new workstation system called “Ernie.” According to the company Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees, so they can remain in a more comfortable and stable position.
“We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day,” said Keck. “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”
“Bert” is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and is being tested to autonomously navigate through facilities with Amazon-developed advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology. In the future, it is thought that an employee would be able to summon Bert to carry items across a facility.
‘Scooter’ and ‘Kermit’ are two other robots that also operate autonomously, and are both transport cars. The carts are used to carry empty totes and packages through our facilities.
In a blog post the company said: ‘By having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, we believe we can make our facilities safer and enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGC like Scooter to pull carts through our facilities reduces the risk of strains on our employees, or even collisions. We currently plan to deploy Scooter to at least one Amazon facility this year.’
Amazon began using robotics in its facilities in 2012, and since then they have added more than 1 million jobs worldwide while simultaneously deploying 350,000 mobile drive unit robots.
“The role robotics and advanced technology can play in not only innovating for customers, but helping make our facilities safer, is a massive motivation for me and my team,” said Keck. “The health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. By listening to them, innovating on their behalf, and driving new technologies into our facilities over the coming months and years, I’m confident we’ll make a big contribution to our goal of reducing recordable incidents by 50% by 2025.”