Sep 30, 2019People & Industry

Celebrating World Space Week

The 4th to the 10th of October is World Space Week, the largest space event…on Earth. The theme of this year’s Space Week is “The Moon: Gateway to the Stars”.

As the natural gas industry employs cutting edge technology, it’s perhaps no surprise that it has had various interactions with the global space industry. Whether it’s deep sea technology used to train astronauts, advanced drill bits to understand the surface of Mars, or advanced robotics for NASA, the gas industry has been able to lend a helping hand in a number of cases. Here are a few of our favourite stories from the relationship between the two industries.

Subsea Diving Trains Astronauts for Space

In years past, before the natural gas industry used Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), humans were required to go to the bottom of offshore rigs to install of repair subsea systems. One expert in the field, Oceaneering International, made a link with NASA a number of years ago.The collaboration began as a way for NASA to borrow learnings from pressurised diving suits to create spacesuits for the shuttle program. Oceaneering International continues to provide operational and maintenance services to NASA at its Neutral Buoyancy Lab, where astronauts train for things like space walks and the assembly of space stations. There’s also talk of NASA using more advanced natural gas drilling equipment for missions on Mars and elsewhere.

Woodside Helps Rebuild a NASA Robot

R2B lives on the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting 500km above earth. But a couple of years ago, R2B developed an intermittent power fault which couldn’t be fixed in space. In May 2018, R2B was returned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for a bit of TLC, but the Center’s workforce was under a heavy workload so NASA asked Woodside if we had a communications technician and electrical engineer to help. Two technicians from Woodside worked with NASA engineers to come up with solutions for R2B’s problem. In the last week of their stay, they helped present the team’s solutions to NASA engineers and project leads to gain approval for R2B’s repair plan. The presentation was a success and the repair and re-commissioning of R2B is underway.

Using Drilling Technology on Mars

In 2013, the Mars rover Curiosity used its small percussion drill to make the Red Planet’s first borehole. The tiny drilling operation led to a big discovery: the geochemical conditions on Mars were once capable of sustaining life! To learn more, and to know if that life did indeed exist too, NASA will likely need to drill deeper during manned missions. The space agency expects this will also require a more robust drilling system, which has led it to examine how it could adapt, or miniaturize, several commercial natural gas technologies.

The Next Generation of Rockets to be Powered by Methane

After a century of rocket fuel research that has looked at everything from RP-1 to hydrogen to paraffin, the industry is turning to a surprising new source – methane natural gas. One of the most abundant chemicals on our planet, methane is finally enjoying the spotlight. For more information on how this new technology could be used see our story on methane-powered rockets here.