Category Archives: Space

3-D Printed Metal Parts

They’re getting better:

The new device reflects a wave of rapid progress in metal 3-D printing, suggesting that the technology is moving toward becoming a more realistic manufacturing tool. Last month, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced they had developed a new method that created stainless-steel parts three times as strong as any previous 3-D-printed steel parts. That means mission-critical parts can be created using 3-D printing without worries about compromising structural integrity. Startup Desktop Metal, meanwhile, is helping to overcome the speed barrier. Its production machine, available for purchase next year, makes metal parts 100 times faster than a laser-based 3-D printer.



I tweeted from the meeting in Seattle last Thursday that this was probably the biggest news from the event:

The Russian billionaire venture capitalist and amateur physicist is the man behind the Breakthrough Starshot mission to send a nano-spacecraft to the closest star, Proxima Centauri, and an initiative called Breakthrough Listen to use powerful radio telescopes to search for signals from intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations. Now Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives has set its sights on Enceladus.

“We formed a sort of little workshop around this idea: Can we design a low-cost, privately funded mission to Enceladus which can be launched relatively soon?” Milner said at an inaugural international space summit called “A New Space Age” put on by the Economist magazine in Seattle, as reported by If Milner is serious about launching a spacecraft to Enceladus, it would be a historic feat as the first privately funded mission to the outer solar system. (If it launched today, it would be the very first private interplanetary mission at all.)

I haven’t talked about it on the blog, but I may be at least partially responsible for this. About a year ago, in the context of developing my Ending Apolloism rant, I started working out the possibilities of a private Enceladus mission, partly just to show that we don’t need no stinkin’ SLS to do fast outer-planet missions. All of the Congressional focus had been on Europa, due to enthusiasm for the mission by Chairman Culberson.

When I went to the New Worlds conference in Austin last year (previous version of the one I attended last week), I talked to Pete Worden about it, as well as John Mankins and John Carrico (who was Google’s astrogator at the time, before they sold off Terra Bella). They all thought it was feasible. However, Pete said that he didn’t think that Yuri would be interested in a private mission to Enceladus, because he wouldn’t want to be distracted from his starship. (Imagine someone typing that sentence a decade ago.)

I talked to some planetary scientists, including Carolyn Porco (PI on Cassini, who is very enthusiastic about prospects for life there, and who was at the Seattle event as well, giving a whoop of joy from the back of the room when Milner made the announcement) and Morgan Cable at JPL. Mike Loucks provided me with some porkchop plots, and we saw some interesting opportunities for fast trips to Saturn in March of every year, starting in 2020, for affordable C3s. It wouldn’t orbit, but be a fast flyby when the moon was outside the limb of the planet, at about 10 km/s, which Morgan told me would be a reasonable velocity to gather dust to search for organics and particularly amino acids. I also talked to ULA, who worked out some numbers of what could be done with Vulcan/ACES and a Star-48.

The idea would be to have a mother ship with a flock or flocks of cubesats that could scatter themselves around the limb of the moon, maybe in several waves to get time variation as well, to taste the flumes of the geysers. It would charge the batteries on the birds, send them off, and store and relay the data back to earth (it would require cooperation from NASA to use the Deep Space Network). I also talked to Professors Jordi Puig-Suari (inventer of the cubesat standard at Cal Poly SLO) and Dave Barnhart at USC about the feasibility, and they thought it would be a good cubesat app. My idea was to put together a basic mission concept and cost estimate, and look for money and a PI. I would be the inital project manager, until we could raise the money and hire someone else who knew WTF they were doing.

Anyway, when I saw Pete in Pasadena at the Space Tech Expo in May, he told me that Yuri had in fact developed an interest in ocean moons. I don’t know whether it was because of my suggestion to Pete or not, and I don’t know whether the workshop came up with something similar to my concept, but based on what Yuri said at that meeting, it sounds like it. In any event, I’m very happy to see this happening.

Steve Jurvetson

Wow, I hope the allegations aren’t true:

Steve Jurvetson, a partner at a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm that bears his name—Draper Fisher Jurvetson—has left the company amid accusations of sexual harassment. However, he is still listed as a “partner” on the DFJ website.

Jurvetson currently serves on the boards of Tesla and SpaceX, but he has taken a leave as a result of these allegations, according to CNBC.

Weird. I was just talking to him Thursday in Seattle.

Moon Versus Mars

Alan Boyle reports on the “debate” in Seattle on Thursday at the space event sponsored by The Economist (which was overall very interesting and worthwhile, other than this). As I noted at the time, it was a false choice based on a false premise.

It started out annoying, and got worse with time. Talmadge said something like (I’m paraphasing) “Before we start this, let’s see if we’ll be able to change some minds. How many think we should go to the moon first.” Hands go up, not mine. “How many think we should go to Mars first?” Other hands go up. “How many think we shouldn’t do either, and should take care of the earth?” Very few, if any hands went up, given the audience. My hand obviously didn’t go up at any of them.

And then they launched into a debate on those three topics, with Naveen Jain making the case for the moon, Chris Lewicki doing the same for asteroids, and poor John Logsdon having to defend the premise that we shouldn’t be doing things in space (something that he doesn’t believe).

So that was the false choice (that is, he didn’t ask the fourth question: “How many people think “we” don’t have to make such a choice, and that some will do one, some will do the other, some will do some other things not mentioned, and some will stay home?”).

The false premise, of course, is that this debate has some relevance to policy, and that unless “we” have a societal “consensus” on what the next step will be, it won’t happen. This is Apolloism.

I think that Chris made the best case, which was basically, we should go anywhere we find useful. And of course, John’s argument isn’t that we shouldn’t settle space, but that we probably won’t. But his example of Antarctica as a harsh environment that hasn’t been really settled (ignoring his arbitrary rule that a settlement requires more than a couple thousand people) fails to persuade because, as Jeff Greason pointed out in audience discussion. On Antarctica, people cannot own the land, they cannot dig the land, they cannot sell the output of their labor, they cannot pass on anything they do there to their descendants.

What he didn’t point out, which I would have, is that the reason for this is the Antarctic Treaty. And if we don’t settle space, a large part of the reason is that the Outer Space Treaty was modeled on it, and it was enforced.