NASA Opens Doors For Asteroid Capture Ideas, Offering $6M For Possible Future Missions

by Elizabeth Howell on March 25, 2014

An astronaut retrieves a sample from an asteroid in this artist's conception. Credit: NASA

An astronaut retrieves a sample from an asteroid in this artist’s conception. Credit: NASA

Got some ideas about how to snag an asteroid? NASA has just announced $6 million in opportunities for its asteroid retrieval initiative, which would see astronauts explore one of these space rocks in the 2020s if the agency receives budgetary approval to go through with the idea.

First proposed in the 2014 fiscal year budget (which has yet to be approved by Congress), the agency is moving forward with the idea by getting ideas from industry about the best way to approach the asteroid, capture it, and other priority areas. Up to 25 proposals will be selected.

The announcement comes just ahead of a one-day conference to (in part) gather public ideas for the mission. For those who weren’t able to snag one of the sold-out seats, NASA is offering virtual attendance at the forum. Follow the instructions at this page and then make a note of the program schedule on Wednesday.

In NASA’s words, these are the topics that are priority areas for solicitation:

  • Asteroid capture system concepts including using deployable structures and autonomous robotic manipulators;
  • Rendezvous sensors that can be used for a wide range of mission applications including automated rendezvous and docking and asteroid characterization and proximity operations;
  • Commercial spacecraft design, manufacture, and test capabilities that could be adapted for development of the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle (ARV);
  • Studies of potential future partnership opportunities for secondary payloads on either the ARV or the SLS;
  • Studies of potential future partnership opportunities for the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission, or other future missions, in areas such as advancing science and in-situ resource utilization, enabling commercial activities, and enhancing U.S. exploration activities in cis-lunar space after the first crewed mission to an asteroid.

“NASA is developing two mission concepts for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM): one concept uses a robotic spacecraft to capture a whole small near-Earth asteroid, and the second concept uses largely the same robotic spacecraft to capture a cohesive mass from a larger asteroid,” the agency added in the solicitation documents.

Artist's conception of NASA's asteroid retrieval mission. Credit: NASA

Artist’s conception of NASA’s asteroid retrieval mission. Credit: NASA

“In both mission concepts, the asteroid mass would be redirected into a stable orbit around the Moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) would rendezvous with the captured asteroid mass in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth.”

The agency is framing this initiative as a way to prepare for longer-duration missions (such as going to Mars) as well as better characterizing the threat from asteroids — which is certainly on many people’s minds after a meteor broke up over Chelyabinsk, Russia just over a year ago.

More information on the initiative is available at this NASA webpage, and you can read the solicitation documents at this link.

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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