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Guests: Dr. Bruce Damer. John Jossy co-hosted this program; Topics: Dr. Damer's SHEPHERD project and the Origin of Life Hot Springs theory.
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John Jossy and I welcomed Dr. Bruce Damer back to the program for the primary purpose of discussing his SHEPHERD project and the Origin of Life Hot Springs Hypothesis. Dr. Damer was recently interviewed by John on this topic through his blog Space Settlement Progress, which was linked to this broadcast webpage. We started the program by asking Dr. Damer to introduce us to SHEPHERD. Dr. Damer did this over most of the first half of the program. Bruce went back in time, talked about his formative work and discussions with Brad Blair and others until the SHEPHERD project showed up in his 2015 TEDx talk. It is an interesting story that you will want to hear so don't miss a word of it. In addition, the story naturally evolved into Bruce talking about how the SHEPHERD project would work in capturing an asteroid, mobilization, resource extraction, and the different variants of the technology including SHEPHERD-Fuel for volatile extraction, SHEPHERD-Miner for 3D printing parts, and SHEPHERD Bio- sustaining a liquid biosphere within an enclosure around the rocky core. He mentioned many of the tools to be used such as LIDAR tracking of the asteroid for touchless capture within a fabric envelope and introduction of gases with the enclosure for de-spinning and manipulation of the target. During the brief history provided by Bruce, he mentioned attending the CubeSat Conf. of 2019 in San Luis Obispo, CA with Carlos Calva, a collaborator on the project, where he got ideas and contacts within the industry to help him come up with a development and test plan for a flight demonstration. John asked him key questions about the conference and his meetings and why that was important.
Bruce and John talked about demo or testing missions, possibly on the ISS, that were part of the SHEPHERD 2019 development plan that came out of the CubeSat conference. Bruce then started talking about the satellite servicing market for initial revenue. John and Bruce suggested other solutions to the challenges being discussed, including orbital debris removal, fully robotic spacecraft capture, even docking and maintenance services. Later in the discussion, Bruce introduced us to the Mond Process developed in 1890 that could be applied in the SHEPHERD-Miner variant to be used on iron/nickel asteroids. Listen to what Bruce said about applying it to what he was working on today. Then, he discussed the SHEPHERD-bio variant in which an artificial mini-ocean could support a biosphere for producing food for space settlements. Bruce likened the concept to a scaled version of a “biosphere in bottle” commercially available from EcoSphere. Bruce mention the benefits of being able to transform things per his commentary.
Marshall called to ask legal questions. For example, at what point in the process of deploying SHEPHERD was it possible to declare ownership of the object or could one declare ownership of an enclosed asteroid? This started a short property rights in space discussion. Listen to what our guest had to say in response to what Marshall was asking. In addition, Marshall asked about scaling up the project. Bruce had lots to say about scaling up, how to do it and what would be best in terms of next steps.
Adrian from San Diego sent in a note about comets, Julian Nott and the potential toxicity of cometary material that could impact the project. Once again, a good discussion that you do not want to miss as Bruce had much to say on this issue (especially on his friend Julian Nott who recently passed away and was a renowned expert on balloon technology and co-inventor of the original SHEPHERD concept. See the end of John’s blog post for tribute to Julian). John picked up the legal discussion again with a question about Article 2 of the OST which says no state can appropriate a celestial body. This was another excellent short discussion which led to me telling my Jim Benson story about his view on claiming property rights and how and when such space property rights issues will be settled.
In the remaining time for our discussion, John switched over to talking about Dr. Damer’s (in partnership with David Deamer) Hot Springs Hypothesis on the Origin of Life. Bruce provided us with an introduction to the theory including how it came about. Bruce also talked about his forming the Biota Institute in 2016 with Dave Dreamer to do work on research supporting this theory. After listening to Bruce explain the theory along with how he came upon it, I asked Bruce if and when a scientific theory ever advanced to be accepted as THE explanation or THE final fact. Bruce talked about proof through the scientific method and that for a theory be accepted in science, the weight of evidence is needed for it to be an accepted explanation of the data. He cited examples with volcanos and plate tectonics. Another example was the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. He said the Origin of Life Theory would be accepted by the weight of evidence which he then explained in some detail. I asked if it was being taught in high school science text books or undergraduate classes. Bruce thought that if it was showing up in a high school text it would be a minor line in the text. More information about the theory would be in college text books plus Bruce said you could find lots of research and information about it online because it is so new that it has not yet started showing up the later text books.
As we were coming to the end of our discussion, I took the liberty of asking Bruce where he saw SHEPHERD in five and ten years from now. Listen to what he said about announcing the formation of a team, the call for interested stakeholders in the umbrella effort, and more. Then he said that in five years, he wanted to be able to have demonstrated in LEO the first capture of a small orbital debris item or actualize a small satellite fetch mission, perhaps coordinated on the ISS. In ten years from now, if there has been a capitalization of the satellite servicing or debris removal market supported by insurance, he wanted to do more with satellite servicing revenue and even go out to the Trojan point, pick up a space rock and bring it back to ISS for research. He hopes that in the 2030s there would be enough of a cash flow to support development of an asteroid ISRU business.
Please post your comments/questions on our blog for this show. You can reach Dr. Damer through me, his UCSC faculty website as well as through his additional websites and projects. You can reach John Jossy through me or his excellent blog, https://spacesettlementprogress.com.