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Others of the Past

There are several groups and companies who have proposed specific lunar or asteroidal missions in the past, but whose plans went dormant some time after that. Some of the people disappeared from the space development community. The ones I list here are generally companies which created professional literature or otherwise spent a considerable amount of resources on their efforts. This is not a complete list of everybody in the past, far from it. However, it does address some of the old names.

Shimizu Corporation, Space Systems Division, Lunar Construction

Shimizu is one of two giant Japanese construction conglomerates who funded in-house designs for utilizing lunar resources back in the 1990s, and came up with some impressive brochures and artwork.

Shimizu Corp Lunar and Orbital Construction

The Space Systems Division within Shimizu Corp. has been performing research and development in utilizing lunar materials for construction, as well as developing robotics systems and designing low Earth orbit stations. Various flashy media reports have reported on Shimizu's "space hotel".

Shimizu kindly sent me a folder on their work, from Shimizu Space Systems, which includes eight glossy sheets detailing some of their work (dual Japanese/English), with impressive professional artwork and photos of research activities, as follows:

  • "Construction on the Moon" shows a picture of a lunar base "constructed using concrete from lunar resources" (otherwise known as "lunarcrete"), a picture of a robot excavator, and the interior of the lunar base. Notably, the text mentions inflatable construction techniques and joint studies with McDonnell Douglas Aerospace on a reference design lunar base.
  • "Lunar Resource Utilization" shows a photo of their lunar soil simulant made from Japanese basaltic lava, and compares it to Apollo 11 and Apollo 14 soils in terms of minerology, particle size, and various mechanical properties. They've apparently gone to great lengths to make their simulant very similar to lunar material. On this sheet, they note that "[t]his includes the result of research in 1995 commissioned by National Space Development Agency of Japan."
  • "Lunar Resource Utilization (Oxygen Production)" includes a photo of an experiment in a NASA KC-135 airplane entitled "Lunar Gravity Test of the Fluidized Bed Reactor". A schematic of a Lunar Oxygen Plant shows how they devise to extract oxygen, iron and titania from ilmenite. This is a product of joint research between Shimizu and the U.S. company Carbotek since 1991. A series of tests were conducted on the NASA KC-135 variable gravity test aircraft, and the data is to be "used for sizing reactor components for bench, pilot and full scale operational lunar facilities".
  • "Agriculture Facility on the Moon" shows photos of experiments in growing plants under low total air pressure and varying humidity, and analysis of the plants (e.g., viable cell count, calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals). Selected plants include wheat, soybean, potato, peanut, spinach, komatsuna and tomato.
  • "Truss Assembly Experiment by Robot" shows a photo of a robotic experiment flown in space in mid-1997 by NASDA. "Shimizu Corporation is establishing its own technological bases for economical and safe construction of large scale space systems and is conducting space robotics and remote systems R&D, utilizing its experience in construction robotics systems development and integrating the results of its orbital robotics joint research with Carnegie Mellon University" and the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL). The flight will also demonstrate an unmanned rendezvous-docking system. Experiments in space will include teleoperation of the arm from the ground. Shimizu has its own test facility for simulating vibration and shock impulses during launch in order to make payloads reliable.
  • "Space Structures" includes a photo of an experiment in a laboratory with a structure having joints with vibration sensing and damping technology. "Shimizu has made best use of the advanced simulation analysis techniques, hardware technology and structural concepts, so as to realize a large deployable antenna with high accuracy under a collaborated research with the University of Colorado."
  • "Space Tourism (Space Hotel)" pictures a wheel rotating to produce artificial gravity, with zero gravity and low gravity areas in and around the hub. The guest rooms, located on the wheel perimeter, look like they could be converted fuel tanks. They number about 80 or so, and there are gaps which could imply that the hotel is to be further expanded over time. Journalists seize upon this sheet.
  • "The Aerospace Management Challenge" is the last full page glossy, and covers the services of CSP Japan, Inc., an aerospace consulting subsidiary of Shimizu Corporation which was established in 1987 through cooperation with CSP Associates, Inc., a leading analyst of the US and other space and defense programs. CSP Japan, Inc., is apparently a legally separate entity from the Space Systems Division of Shimizu.

The notebook cover states that the Space Systems Division employs R&D staff with expertise in robot engineering, structural engineering, architectural engineering, civil engineering, and material engineering. In addition to the above applications on their enclosed glossies, the cover also mentions space energy utilization. Their research and development is split into three areas - orbiting systems, lunar bases and ground support facilities. They also mention working with The Ralph M. Parsons Company and J.M. Beggs International, Inc.

Shimizu is an old, very large company, founded in 1804 (one of the old "zaibatsu"), now with 15,710 employees, 74.3 billion Yen in capital, 1.556 trillion yen in sales, and 1.510 trillion yen in orders awarded. (The conversion from yen to dollars was hovering around 110 yen to the dollar as of June 1997 and again in October 1998 after wild fluctuations in between.)

You can visit the Shimizu home page but there was nothing there on their space research and development last time I checked, though their main logo on the WWW is of something in orbit around Earth. I would not expect a private company to reveal their business plan, though they must reveal the results of the R&D which is funded by the government tax dollar.

The family who owns Shimizu is philanthropic and has donated a large sum of money to the Space Studies Institute with no strings attached.

It's common for a few people at the top to be limited in their ability to get a large company engaged in a different project. It requires the positive commitment of many, many people up and down both management and technical tracks, who are already engaged in very busy business activity, but who have developed habits of business and thinking alien to a radical new venture such as space development.

Their contact information is:

Shimizu Corporation
Space Systems Division
1-2-3 Shibaura
Minato-ku, Tokyo 105
Phone: 03-5441-0085
Fax: 03-5441-0346

I was kindly sent the above materials by Kenji Takagi, who works for Dr. Shinji Matsumoto, General Manager of their Space Systems Division. The Director is Seishi Suzuki.


Obayashi is the other giant Japanese construction conglomerate who funded in-house designs for lunar mining in the 1990s.

I heard that they were looking at construction of a colony on the Moon or Mars, not in orbital space. There is nothing on this project on the web.

I contacted them to introduce them to the PERMANENT concepts of using asteroidal and/or lunar materials for space industrialization and settlement. The spokesperson on behalf of the company regarding their space colony "plan" was Obayashi's Chief Research Engineer, Yoji Ishikawa. I received an e-mail response from Mr. Ishikawa which stated "Thank you for your interest on our space activity. I think your idea to combine all the good information is good. Unfortunately our company is making our own website and so I cannot give you our information. I wish your success on your website."

Obayashi was founded in 1892, has capital of 57 billion Yen, 12,563 employees, and has an impressive list of subsidiaries worldwide. They have an Obayashi website, though it had nothing indicating any interest in space development last time I checked.

Comments on Efforts by Japanese Companies

There was a little discussion in the UseNet conference about the statements by the two Japanese construction giants about building in outer space. The following two quotes well articulate two relevant issues:

Dwayne Allen Day cautiously commented:

"Take these proposals with several tons of salt. They are not realistic. From what I have heard, these are mainly done by the Japanese firms for internal promotion purposes. To attract hotshot structural engineers, among other reasons: "Come work for Godzilla Heavy Construction and design bases on the Moon!" Then you spend the rest of your career designing innovative parking garages for downtown Tokyo."

Henry Spencer replied:

"In the US, yes. Japan is a little different. In US big business, if you think five years ahead you're a long-term planner, and if you think ten years ahead you're a visionary. But big Japanese companies think much farther ahead, and their long-term plans go decades ahead.

"Understand, we are talking about a slightly different approach to things here. When a US company announces a long-term plan, this is as much as public-relations gimmick as anything else. You don't see Japanese firms putting out press releases about their long-term plans, because those plans are marked Company Confidential (however you say that in Japanese). But they do exist. Not as detailed roadmaps of everything the company is going to do, but as general ideas of which way it will probably be heading and what preparations need to be made.

"Partly the big Japanese companies think farther ahead because they have to. Their decisions are made by a lengthy consensus process, which simply has a long lead time -- they *have* to get started on major decisions earlier than autocratic Western managements which can turn the company around by decree overnight. A longer view is also just part of their corporate culture, partly because they have more patient investors. (American institutional investors, e.g. pension funds, are essentially required by law to take a very short-term view, and this affects how the investees think.)

"The design drawings for space hotels etc. are not something that people actually expect to build to. They're conceptual studies, exercises in exploring the terrain. The companies certainly are not putting major money into them, yet. But that doesn't mean they're not serious about it. At least some of them seriously expect to do these things, *eventually*, and they are doing small amounts of work on it now so that they are ready to move in when the economics improve enough to make it profitable."

Of course, the economics improves dramatically once people stop thinking we would need to launch it all up from Earth, and start using materials already in space, which means engineering

Applied Space Resources

The company's website has disappeared at the domain and been replaced with a generic domain name advertising site.

Founded in January, 1998, after being organized in 1997, they announced their intention to develop lunar resources as a private sector company. They had a very professional presentation. After their original announcement, they expanded their general scope to near Earth resources, implicitly including asteroidal materials. Their main thrust was a lunar sample return mission, which they were trying to gain investment for. For example, they stated:

"ASR is developing a core competency in the use of existing technologies for the development of resources in near-Earth space."

They expressed that they were not interested in government subsidies.

ASR had a nice electronic newsletter called InnerResources, distributed for free by e-mail.

Asteroid Enterprises

In a paper presented at a conference in 1996, Willoughby et al. report on an asteroid sample return mission analysis, as work sponsored primarily by the NASA Lewis Research Center.

Their analysis of a sample return vehicle launched on a present day Delta II 7925 rocket (chosen for its reliability - and among the class of "small" launchers it is the largest) shows the sizes of samples that could be returned to Earth's surface from various asteroids near Earth - up to more than 600 kilograms (over 1200 pounds)! Their estimate of the cost to produce and operate the first vehicle over its life cycle is US $345 million, and extra copies would cost $223 million.

The mission design of Willoughby et al. was conservative. Off the shelf hardware was used as much as possible. After the design was completed and the weight of the vehicle was estimated, 15% was added to its dry weight (including an extra thruster in case one failed) and a 10% propellant margin was added. By improving the vehicle design, the vehicle gets smaller and the returned sample gets even larger. If the sample is not returned to Earth but just retrieved to Earth orbit (e.g., for mining and processing experiments in space), the sample increases further.

The vehicle thrusters use an electric ion drive propulsion system using Xenon propellant such as that used on Hughes satellites for several years, and on the NASA Deep Space 1 probe which launched in 1998. It was assumed that the Delta II rocket would launch the entire vehicle to Earth escape velocity before the much more efficient electric ion drive thrusters kicked in. However, just launching the vehicle above Earth's atmosphere and letting the ion thrusters lift it up and away from low Earth orbit would increase sample return capability. (Hughes marketed its electric ion drive engines as an upper stage in order to be able to increase satellite size.)

Using a larger launch system instead of the Delta II, for example the Atlas IIAS, the Ariane, the Space Shuttle, or a Russian rocket, the return sample gets even larger.

No asteroid sampling system exists, and this was by far the main design uncertainty:

"Several types of sampling systems were considered: projectile penetrators, a tether system with a screw conveyor, and landers with arms or excavators. The tether system seems lightest and simplest. Its mass varies with sample size and depth. Almost 120 kg of this sampling apparatus can be left at the asteroid.

"Our tether sampler was given a cursory review by Honeybee Robotics (of the Champillion comet sampling team) and found reasonable. The slow drilling rates pose no risk of loss of volatiles. Future studies should define the sample apparatus in much greater detail, and consider innovative sampling techniques."

The vehicle mass is slightly over 1000 kg, and is released from the Delta II rocket in interplanetary space at a speed of 1 km/sec.

One mission scenario is to the asteroid 1991-VG, an asteroid whose spectrum indicates it is probably of desirable composition. During the best time to visit the asteroid, the round trip time is 2.5 years, including a 90 day stay. This is the 600 kg sample return mission. However, if we visit this asteroid at the worst possible time in its orbit relative to Earth, an absolute worst case scenario, the return sample is still around 350 kg (roughly 700 pounds) but the round trip time increases to over 6.2 years using gentle ion drive engines.

A few other asteroids were also considered in the study, as well as Mars' moon Deimos (75 kg in a 4.6 year mission, best case).

When the vehicle returns, it could be reused for another mission rather than launching up another vehicle, after replacing the excavation hardware that was left behind (unless it is returned, too).

There is vast room for improvement in this conservative study, but the authors put forth a good baseline reference mission based on conservative assumptions.

General Space Corporation

General Space Corporation was founded in 1993, reportedly by a few veteran American and Russian space professionals with offices in Houston and Moscow to commercialize space-related products and services. Apparently, this corporation has not been very active for quite some time. However, Mark Reiff, the American director and apparently the person who pushed the company forward, is a knowledgeable and well-networked career space professional in US government contracting circles. His response to my inquiry is that their "plans are on indefinite hold".

The focus of GSC was to commercially take advantage of existing Russian technology, e.g., the Soyuz vehicles, and the Salyut and Mir space stations. GSC's products included:

  • Marketing traditional, well-proven Soyuz vehicles and their derivatives, piloted by Russian cosmonauts. These include a "Soyuz Quick Access Research Vehicle" for inexpensive quick access to manned space flight research, and proposed "Soyuz/Inflatable Module" vehicle extensions which offer "manned" lunar flyby capability and the potential for a mission to Mars' moons. These could also be applied to other manned missions not discussed on the website, e.g., to an asteroid near Earth.
  • "Salyut/Mir Service Module Research Facility", a commercial manned space station
  • "Lunar Transportation Project" for lunar personnel and cargo transportation infrastructure

Their website had impressive graphics and brief text on mission scenarios but did not have its own domain, instead one of those pages.

Mark Reiff was a project engineer who, at the time, had thirteen years experience in aerospace project management and space vehicle system and hardware design. He claimed experience in all phases of space vehicle development including requirements definition, design, integration, as well as verification. Mr. Reiff was also a well-known participant in the space advocacy community's upper tiers and had a long track record of promoting private sector space development beyond his formal paid work life. He ran several e-mail mailing lists. However, he was also a controversial character, as his mailings occasionally gotten mixed with his harsh partisan politics of an unequivocal and subjective nature which may have unnecessarily affected some people's attitudes.

NEARS and 4660 Nereus

In 1995, a detailed 792 kg spacecraft design for a sample return mission to the near Earth asteroid 4660 Nereus was proposed by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) by many of the same people involved in NEAR above. (It is the same laboratory involved in many defense and civilian missions.) At the asteroid, an Earth return capsule would detach from the spacecraft with a "six-shooter" sampling device. Samples can be taken from rock or regolith. As the name implies, six samples would be taken. When the vehicle returns to low Earth orbit, the samples separate from the vehicle and parachute to Earth. On a budget trajectory, the round trip time is 4 years.

A good detailed account of this NEARS (Near Earth Asteroid Return Sample) proposal was given at a Princeton conference (Space Manufacturing 10).

4660 Nereus is a near-earth asteroid which was of interest to the SpaceDev NEAP group, as well as the Japanese for the Itokawa probe for some time before they switched to another target, and is commonly referenced as a potential target elsewhere, because it takes relatively little energy to reach, and might contain volatiles. Spectroscopy indicated it is a C type. It is probably not a rocky asteroid, and possibly one of the most primitive asteroids in the solar system, maybe even a captured comet. It is about 1 km wide in an orbit that crosses Earth's orbit, and could be economically attractive.

Googling it in 2012, not a single hit came up in Google except my own website. It apparently exists only on paper in those widely published proceedings, or maybe in scanned graphics documents somewhere.

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