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Roy Tucker, Dr. David Hyland, and Philippe van Nedervelde conducted a panel discussion of topics from the 2nd SPACE Conference. (credit: A. Young)

The 2nd SPACE Conference examines human exploration and habitation in space

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There are numerous space exploration advocacy groups well-known to readers of this publication, such as The Mars Society, the American Astronautical Society, and the National Space Society. Last month, a lesser-known such organization, the Scientific Preparatory Academy for Cosmic Explorers (SPACE), held its second conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme of the conference was two-fold: to examine the development of space habitation technology and discussion of the vital need for international space exploration education.

SPACE was founded in January 2012 on the Isle of Man by a group of undergraduate students in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University. SPACE formed with the support of their professor, Dr. David Hyland, and other working professionals from around the world including optical engineer Roy tucker and space lawyer Virgiliu Pop.

“We need the stimulating challenges of other worlds,” Hyland said. “We need the challenge of a frontier of the cosmos, and accepting the challenge of this frontier will be ennobling to a spacefaring society.”

In just two and a half years, SPACE has established several budding workshop programs related to space disciplines, with ongoing research and development through its Texas-based research company, Experimental Center for Applied Physical Systems (ECAPS), LLC. The First SPACE Conference on the Isle of Man in 2012 featured Art Dula of Excalibur Almaz, Chris Welch of International Space University, and space entrepreneur Christopher Stott, among other noted presenters.

The 2nd SPACE Conference offered a wide array of presentations ranging from creative vintage science fiction that has become fact in our time, to near-Earth asteroid mitigation, a number of crucial educational outreach programs to spur interest in space in the minds of young girls and boys, to fanciful topics like the multi-generation starship, and the replication of the Mars environment as an actual tourist educational experience and research laboratory.

During the opening general session, Hyland addressed a number of pressing issues with respect to space exploration and long-term habitation, as well as the desire to explore. “We need the stimulating challenges of other worlds,” he emphasized. “We need the challenge of a frontier of the cosmos, and accepting the challenge of this frontier will be ennobling to a spacefaring society.”

Long-term deep space exploration requires far more accurate data with respect to radiation, he stated, noting that astronauts aboard the International Space Station benefit from protection offered by the Earth’s magnetosphere, and thus is not sufficient to provide realistic data. The second critical issue, he said, was the question of partial gravity. “We talk about inhabiting Mars, but we don’t know if 0.38g is enough to keep people healthy and prevent bone loss,” he admitted.

The third practical issue to be addressed for future missions to the Moon and Mars is the chemical makeup of a planetary body’s soil and its impact on the human body. The experience of Apollo astronauts with lunar dust was that it was extremely fine, pervasive, abrasive, and impossible to keep off the body as they tracked it into the lunar module; it wound up on their skin and even under their nails. Hyland likened Martian soil to a “toxic brew” that could have profound impact on spacefarers’ physiological health.

Virgiliu Pop, who specializes in space law and policy, flew from Romania to present the case for the wisdom of government spending on space programs. He stated, due to the high visibility of space exploration programs, particularly in the United States, they are a convenient scapegoat for budget cutters and critics who feel the money could be better spent on the welfare of society. Pop argued that this has been the case since the days of the Mercury program. The combined budgets of all space agencies worldwide, he said, total $39 billion. If this, in turn, was distributed amount the world’s poor and starving, the individual benefit would have little impact, he argued. However, the overall benefit of space activities for developed and developing nations today is evident daily in conveniences we often take for granted.

“We need the stimulating challenges of other worlds,” Hyland said. “We need the challenge of a frontier of the cosmos, and accepting the challenge of this frontier will be ennobling to a spacefaring society.”

“The Generation Starship: Conception and Actuality,” a paper presented by Simone Caroti, explored the theoretical and ethical issues of a spaceship capable of sustaining hundreds or even thousands of people that would operate, basically, indefinitely. A hypothetical exercise for obvious reasons, it was thought-provoking for the issues raised: How do people cope with the idea of having no home planet, unable to relate to a terrestrial body like the Earth, that their starship is forever traveling to a destination they may never see. Addressing such issues may have practical application to space exploration within our own solar system.

The subject of the catastrophic effect of a large asteroid impact on Earth has been the basis in recent years for movies and numerous papers. Shen Ge, a founding member of SPACE, presented a paper with a unique approach to asteroid mitigation. Using the asteroid Apophis as the test case, Ge explored the potential of changing the asteroid’s albedo using a mission-designed Surface Albedo Treatment System (SATS) employing “albedo change particles” applied to key portions of the asteroid. Computer models predicted this would alter the asteroid’s thermal properties and subtly alter its calculated trajectory.

The topic of invariant manifolds in our solar system—nonlinear dynamics associated with the three-body problem—was the subject of a paper presented by Hyerim Kim, a graduate student working on her Ph.D. thesis at Texas A&M. She described an exploratory mission profile with existing propulsion technology that takes advantage of the invariant manifolds created by the Sun, planets, and third bodies resulting in what has been referred to as the “interplanetary superhighway,” akin to a cosmic jetstream. She cited the existing ocean currents of Earth as a frame of reference. Employing this would permit crewed missions that would preserve limited spacecraft propellants.

Michael McCullar, a professional engineer from Houston involved in aerospace programs and the non-profit organization Seal of Valor, presented his paper on an interferometric observatory system comprised of a formation of nanosatellites and Earth-based observatories to permit the imaging of exoplanets, stars, and near Earth objects. McCullar has named this system “Macho Mengi,” which is Swahili for “many eyes.” This system is currently in Phase 2 development by the Houston Space chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Texas A&M University, Seal of Valor, and C3, Inc.

The cultivation of a new generation of students regarding space in general and the core disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is vital to the America’s capability to excel in space exploration and astronomic discovery. Adrienne Provenzano, an educator from Indiana, presented an expansion of the acronym to include the arts: STEAM. Her paper covered the inclusion of the arts and humanities as central to foster interest, wonder, and appreciation in space education in children and specifically girls. Provenzano quoted Dr. Mae Jemison: “We can’t do this (future space exploration) with just half the population.” To emphasize her approach, several portions of her presentation were presented in song. She has discovered this is particularly well-received by elementary school-aged children.

Space exploration and space studies are truly global, and this fact was brought home by Saleh Al-Shidhani, a professor at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman. He described efforts by the United Nations General Assembly to bridge the gap between countries with little space education and aerospace engineering studies and those developed nations with such resources. Al-Shidhani specifically cited efforts at his university in Oman and pointed to CubeSat design engineering efforts there to encourage students to pursue studies in space science, space engineering and aerospace technology.

Roy Tucker, a senior engineer at the Imaging Technology Laboratory of the University of Arizona, is also one of America’s most successful discoverers of asteroids, with over 600 to his credit. He is co-discoverer of 99942 Apophis which will closely approach Earth in 2029. He spoke on both existing technology used in making discoveries, as well as technologies that could be employed to alter asteroid trajectories.

INTERSPACE, to be built near Kennedy Space Center, will replicate certain Martian environments and terrain, and include living and working quarters where visitors will be able to remain for anywhere from several hours to one week.

Continuing the topic of asteroid detection, Dr. Neha Satak presented her paper on the ongoing Space Moving Object and Transient Event Search System (SMOTESS) project. She proposes to place a space-based telescope in a Venus-like orbit to detect asteroids 40 to 140 meters in diameter. The technology used to detect the asteroid builds upon Roy Tucker’s proven MOTESS instrument that he has used for several years to detect numerous asteroids. The distinction of their approach is that this space-based telescope is designed to operate in scan-mode that eliminates the need for precision pointing of the telescope. This can substantially reduce the cost and risk of failure of the mission.

Satellites and other spacecraft have generated needed electrical power from the proven technology of solar panels for decades. Hyland presented a paper explaining the design of “Power Star,” which draws on original ECHO inflated satellite technology incorporating printed solar arrays applied to a flexible microwave fabric skin coupled with printed patch antenna technology. This, he said, would permit “…power to be gathered from any angle and power to be beamed in any direction without slewing or structural deformation.”

More pragmatic near-term subjects presented involved the use of 3-D printing in space. This is particularly relevant with NASA’s approval of a 3-D printer developed by the company Made In Space that will fly to the ISS later this summer on a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission. Georgio Gaviraghi from Italy presented a paper where he described the 3-D manufacturing of habitable space structures from modular components, as well as 3-D printing of containers for the storage of consumables like water. Gaviraghi is also involved in the recycling of discarded consumer material into 3-D printed products, which potentially has almost endless possibilities on Earth.

Dr. Justin Karl of the Terran Sciences Group described an innovative method using the more accurate term “additive manufacturing” that makes use of lunar regolith. He explained the application of automated kilowatt-class direct diode infrared lasers producing sintered regolith building blocks that can be used in the construction of habitats and other structures on the lunar surface. Karl stated such lasers today require very little maintenance and have reached a level of efficiency that in lunar applications they could be powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) or even solar arrays. He brought samples of common soil and sand that have successfully been laser sintered.

Mark Homnick, CEO of the NewSpace Center, LLC (a subsidiary of 4Frontiers Corporation), discussed the ongoing work on INTERSPACE, a space-themed destination coming soon to Titusville, Florida, not far from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The facility will include Mars Analog facility that will measure 2,140 square meters (23,000 square feet.) It will replicate certain Martian environments and terrain, and include living and working quarters where visitors will be able to remain for anywhere from several hours to one week. The facility will be designed to simulate a self-sustaining Mars settlement in terms of food growth and preparation, and real-world research and development will be conducted at the facility, which is scheduled to open in 2016.

In the closing session of the conference, Philippe van Nedervelde, a futurist originally from Belgium now living in Florida, gave a presentation on the vital need of educating the public of the continued benefits of space exploration and aerospace commerce. He patterned his talk after President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University and the address before Congress announcing the nation’s bold plan to send astronauts to the Moon and return them safely. Van Nedervelde said the United States needs visionary leaders like John Kennedy today, and spoke of Space PAC, Inc., an organization that supports pro-space Democratic candidates. Space PAC is backing the election campaign of Gabriel Rothblatt for the 8th Congressional district in Florida that makes up the Space Coast. An aggressive space exploration program is part of Rothblatt’s platform.

Dr. Martine Rothblatt, certainly the most accomplished and successful business executive to speak at the conference (and mother of Gabriel), presented, “From Zheng He to Elon Musk—The Spacer’s Political Imperative.” She explained the exploratory and trading voyages of Chinese Admiral Zheng He during the Ming Dynasty and the untold riches and commerce that was brought about as a result. She said the United States could partner with other nations to muster the global will to explore beyond Earth orbit with common national goals that would benefit populations on Earth. Elon Musk embodies the spirit of Zheng He, she said, but the space community needs more individuals like him. When the emperor halted the voyages of Zheng He, she said, China’s decline began. In similar manner, the spacefaring nations should develop a renewed space exploration imperative to improve life on Earth and strengthen the prospects of peace, she said in closing.

A panel discussion by Hyland, Tucker, and van Nedervelde, commenting on the subjects presented at the conference, concluded the event and left many attendees optimistic of the future of human space exploration and that technology will continue to be developed to make habitation in space and on the planets a reality.