By Debra Werner
Woosh. The 15 June ASCENDxSummit, “Accelerating Pathways to Space,” sharpened our focus on the future of laser-accelerated data communications, the soon-to-be reality of infinitely renewable clean energy, the engineering of machines and methods to capitalize on these revolutionary advances, and the rapid scale-up of the LEO infrastructure needed to supply and sustain our off-world future.
During the rapid-fire three-hour session experts from Axiom Space, the Fusion Industry Association, and NASA explored how fundamental systems are being transformed to help rapidly scale-up the LEO infrastructure needed to supply and sustain human life in space.
Here are seven key takeaways from the conversations:
- Everyone is invited. Establishing communities in space requires a global approach. “We need as many countries involved as possible, as broad a coalition as possible, as diverse a coalition as possible to create this new future not only for America, but for all of humanity to enjoy,” says Mike Gold, Redwire executive vice president and former NASA associate administrator for space policy.
- Think about sustainability. “We have to think of space infrastructure as being more than just launch,” says Clare Martin, Astroscale U.S. executive vice president. “Infrastructure also means investment in cleaning our critical orbital highways and in maintaining our orbital assets.”
- Humans wanted. “Market demand for human access to low Earth orbit can create a positive feedback loop, which drives lower cost and more reliable human-rated infrastructure and logistics, which ultimately drives access cost down and enables more business cases to close,” says Christian Maender, Axiom director for in-space manufacturing and research.
- Water, Air, fuel and building materials. Those four things can be attained on the Moon through in-situ resource extraction. Before people travel to the Moon, it’s important to survey the local resources. “You want to pull that water and air out of the surface versus having to take it with you from Earth because it’s expensive and hard to do,” says Peter McGrath, Intuitive Machines vice president.
- Space infrastructure starts on the ground. Microsoft is working with multiple industry partners to ensure satellite networks are connected with the Azure cloud. “We are focused on bringing the cloud and space together,” says Steve Kitay, Azure Space senior director and former Defense Department deputy assistant secretary for space policy.
- 39-day trips to Mars and 100-ton lunar cargo ferries. Compact fusion offers that promise. The technology is not yet ready to power rockets, but breakthroughs are coming. “Today is the right time to pool our efforts, private and public, as a global partnership to deliver and produce fusion propulsion,” says Setthivoine You, HelicitySpace co-founder and chief scientist.
- Communicating at the speed of light. NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) is set to launch this summer to send data from geostationary orbit to Earth at 1.2 gigabits per second, orders of magnitude better than radio frequency communications. LCRD promises “major advances in how we can support science, exploration, and commercial industry,” says project manager Glenn Jackson.
Watch the entire Summit rewind at https://www.ascend.events/ascendx/ascendxsummit-accelerating-pathways-to-space/.
Debra Werner is freelance reporter based in San Francisco. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.