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Other Companies and Programs

CubeSat Program

The CubeSat program has been launching miniature satellites since 2003, with a standard "1U" unit being a 10 cm (= 1 liter) cube weighing no more than 1.33 kg. Multiples of this standard size and weight are also acceptable, and actually the norm, e.g., a 40cm x 40 cm x 20 cm payload would be a 32U CubeSat. The idea is standardization so that the CubeSats can be launched on a variety of rockets, usually integrated as secondary payloads.

Occasionally, a mission related to space resources utilization will be proposed, such as an asteroid probe.

When somebody at Planetary Resources, Inc., mentioned the size of their Arkyd telescopes, it was a multiple of 10 cm in dimensions. It was also stated that their Arkyd telescopes would go as secondary payloads. It sounded like ... another CubeSat conforming design specification. Likewise, Deep Space Industries Inc. came right out and said they would launch CubeSat compliant secondary payloads to prospect asteroids.

Shackleton Energy Company

The legendary Bill Stone, reknowned American inventor, extremely tough hobbyist explorer in remote parts of the Earth, former NASA astronaut trainee, and NASA contractor, is the prime mover behind Shackleton Energy Company, which is separate from his other company, Stone Aerospace, though the latter is also interesting.

Shackleton Energy Company plans to send robotic explorers to the lunar poles right away to lead the way for subsequent human industrial expeditions in order to mine water and other volatiles (such as methane and ammonia) for producing fuel propellants to export from the Moon to refueling service stations in Earth orbit, as well as other products from these raw materials.

Shackleton wants its equipment to be able to operate day and night and in all environments. To accomplish this, Bill Stone wants the equipment to be nuclear powered, which adds some complications.

The company is named after Shackleton Crater, which is located at the lunar south pole (and in fact the Moon's axis of rotation is inside the crater), permanently shadowed inside, with lots of water ice inside, and has peaks which are permanently sunlit as well as lower level ridges which are sunlit 80 to 90% of the time.

Shackleton Energy Company was formed in 2007. Over time, Bill Stone has explored potential partnerships between NASA and the private sector for mining the Moon, but hasn't landed big money or solid commitment. Stone's estimates of what would be required by a purely private sector investor before return on investment are a bit on the high side, $ 25 billion to reach return on investment (Ref: stone25b), largely due to the humans he plans to send, but maybe influenced by his historical work with the US government, though I haven't seen any breakdown of his analysis and how he comes up with that number. (Just $1 billion is an awesome number, and it's hard to imagine repeating that 25 times, except for government work. Look at what Bigelow has accomplished in 10 years with its inflatable habitats within well under their half billion dollar limit. Imagine repeating that 50 times.) Also, like some other American companies, an America-centrism viewpoint is reflected in a lot of statements coming out.

In 2011, Shackleton Energy Company tried to internet "crowdsource" funding with a target of $ 1.2 million but raised only $ 5,517.

Nonetheless, one thing you can count on: Bill Stone will never give up until the day he dies, and he has some tough comrades with a lot of practical experience.

Unfortunately, as of May 2012, the Shackleton Energy Company website is only one page with just a picture of the Moon and "Shackleton Energy Company Fueling the Space Frontier" which, when clicked on, just sends an email to the company, i.e., practically no website.

See also the Stone Aerospace website.

References and Footnotes:
Ref: stone25b

Source: interview of Bill Stone by Mike Wall, dated January 13, 2011

External links:

Wikipedia on CubeSATs

Shackleton Energy Company website

Shackleton Energy Company on Wikipedia

Bill Stone's company, NASA contractor

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