Feb 15, 2017

Lecturer: Joel Sercel, TransAstra

Joel C. Sercel, PhD, is the Founder and Chief Engineer of the Trans Astronautica Corporation (TransAstra), a company dedicated to the belief that humanity will thrive as a species once we make the leap and homestead the solar system. With recent technological breakthroughs in information systems, manufacturing, sensor systems, and robotics that now is the time to move from dreaming about homesteading space, to doing it. TransAstra is starting by building the technology to provide in-space transportation and related services with a fleet of reusable space tugs supplied by propellant derived from asteroids. Our first customer will be NASA, but after that we will support the new asteroid mining industry for returning valuable new resources to the Earth. Space tourism, space solar power, and then space based manufacturing Dr. Sercel has decades of experience developing advanced technology and innovation products in fields ranging from aerospace and defense to software and robotics. In addition to his private sector work, Joel spent 14 years at JPL and taught systems engineering and space mission and satellite design at the graduate level at Caltech. Dr. Sercel led the conception and definition of the NSTAR ion propulsion system. Dr. Sercel received his PhD and master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology with a doctoral dissertation in plasma physics as applied to space propulsion. His bachelor’s degree was in Engineering Physics from the University of Arizona.


Apis: Asteroid Provided In-Situ Systems: A New Vision for Man’s Future In Space

Since it’s inception, NASA has promulgated a vision of human exploration which involves missions and outposts in Earth orbit, the lunar surface, and Mars. Supplies are come from the Earth. When in-situ resources are considered, they are assumed to be derived from the surface of the Moon or Mars, with some consideration of Phobos and Deimos. The Apollo program shows that this strategy can lead to spectacular, albeit very expensive, demonstrations but it does not lead to sustainable progress. This seminar articulates the case for an alternative vision in which humans live in space supported by the in-situ resources of Near Earth Objects (NEOs). I suggest that using NEO resources is the most cost-effective approach, because NEOs are the most accessible source of exploitable extraterrestrial materials, they are naturally preprocessed into objects of the ideal size for exploitation, and they contain the critical materials that are most needed first for cost-effective and eventually self-sustaining activities in space.

Apis is a new flight system architecture designed to enable cost-effective exploitation of asteroid resources to support current and planned activities in space and later space industrialization, orbital tourism, and settlement by workers and colonists. Apis uses many known technologies applied in elegant new ways to exploit the microgravity, vacuum, background cold-sink, and copious available solar thermal energy available in deep space 1 AU from the Sun. This architecture minimizes the use of expensive robotics, massive ground-launched equipment, and costly electric power systems. The key component technologies for Apis include thin-film precision inflatable solar reflectors, light-weight capture bags for containing small (≤10m

diameter) asteroids, thin-film inflatable sun shades to provide passive cold sinks for trapping evolved water vapor, and solar thermal rocket technology based on water propellant.

In this presentation I will describe the Apis flight system architecture, a mission design for a first mission to harvest 100 metric tons of water from a near Earth asteroid, and a cis-lunar transportation supplied by asteroidal water that can reduce the cost of NASA’s program of human exploration and enable large scale industrial processes in space, both much sooner than you might thing.

Lecture Slides: click here to download

Recorded talk: click to view