Bridenstine talked about it NASA selected four investigations from the discovery program to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they are not yet official missions and selections focus on compelling objectives and science that are not covered by NASA’s active missions or recent selections. The selected proposals include:
DAVINCI + (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus) which would analyze the atmosphere of Venus to understand how it formed, evolved and also to ascertain whether Venus ever had an ocean; Io Volcano Observer (IVO) would explore Io, which is a moon of Jupiter and the most volcanic moon in the solar system, in an attempt to learn more about its specific characteristics; Trident would explore Triton, a unique and very active frozen moon of Neptune. It is unusual because it is the only large moon in our solar system that orbits in the opposite direction to its planet’s rotation, a retrograde orbit; VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) would map the surface of Venus to determine the planet’s geological history and understand why Venus developed so differently from Earth.
He also talked about the plan to outsource space technologies to individual and private companies in an effort to get new and improved ideas different from what their NASA engineers come up with. STMD (Space Technology Mission Directorate) is tasked with introducing new innovations into NASA, convincing institutions, research facilities and individuals to propose new innovations and compete for the best solution for space-related problems in areas not limited to housing, mobility, potency or dust mitigation. There was a global challenge launched by NASA in June to seek new designs for a toilet that would function in both microgravity and lunar gravity. It was called the Lunar Loo challenge. Since then, the challenge has seen more than 2,000 entries. NASA awarded prizes to the best five entries.
Bridenstine also mentioned their mission to classify asteroids to determine how they could potentially affect life on earth. He said the observatory team has been very successful with characterizing asteroids that are a kilometer or larger as they were able to characterize 90 percent of those required by the congress. The team is now characterizing asteroids that are 140 m or larger, but these are more difficult as the latest models and evaluations show that only about 50% of them had been classified. He also said that obtaining resources from those asteroids was not in their current mission, as all they do right now is to classify those asteroids and assess their likely impact with the earth.
As an observer of the global event, Space in Africa has noted major upheavals for the African space industry that must occur. Bridenstine’s presentation reminds that the African space industry needs more private innovators, collaborators, researchers and research institutes in African nations. The race to explore outer space continues to grow exponentially and African countries need to step up their efforts to be active participants in this development.
This means that we need to grow more private companies and research, towards the discovery and improvement of available space technologies. There are plans already in place by various African countries to launch astronauts into space. For example, the Nigerian government announced its intention to launch an astronaut into space by 2030, as part of an ambitious space program. But there is still a lot to be achieved, especially as African countries still need to have a capability to launch satellites from national soil.
The African space industry is expected to grow to over $ 10 billion over the next four years, according to Space in Africa’s African space industry annual report. This is also a significant opportunity for the US to expand bilateral trade with African countries, which it was a 40 billion dollars in 2018. US companies are well positioned to sell space equipment and services to African governments. In particular, the US private sector could build new satellites, sell ground station equipment, provide capability training, and help develop launch capabilities across the continent.
This is a growth opportunity for Africa and for US-Africa trade relations.