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

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

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

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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.

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philw1776
Member
philw1776
March 25, 2014 12:31 PM

I view this as an expensive stunt to justify the expen$ive budget crippling Orion & SLS developments with a mission. I hope to be able to retract this statement in future years.

FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
March 25, 2014 2:05 PM
0.006 $bn, a third of a thousand of the NASA budget, is quite reasonable to put into a crazy study like this. Who knows, maybe someone who is very creative could come up with some purpose with it? >”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” No, it cannot be! Towing a meteoroid to Lunar orbit and sending a micro gravity EVA crew there, as a preparation for going to Mars??? Wow! Then what next? Making a crater on Venus as a preparation for going to Mars? ANYTHING, except actually going to Mars, it seems… A tiny meteroid… Read more »
Marsbug
Member
Marsbug
March 26, 2014 6:31 AM
We’ve discovered so much about the chemical evolution leading up to the origins of life, the conditions of the early solar system, and the materials and processes that led to the creation of the planets, through studies of meteorites and the little material we have collected from asteroids to date. Imagine all we could learn about the origin of life and the Earth from the study of a whole cabanaceous asteroid, never touched by Eartths environment. I can’t agree that this mission would be worthless. And, given the attitude of the US government to spaceflight, and their determination to cut funding for government spaceflight, it has other advantages, such as being cheap enopugh, and a small enough target… Read more »
FarAwayLongAgo
Member
FarAwayLongAgo
March 26, 2014 7:41 AM

I’m not sure that a tiny 7 meter diameter meteoroid is representative for the large asteroids which shaped Earth’s surface. The meteoroid redirect mission will take as long time and cost as much as a human landing on Mars would. Sure, it would give some knew knowledge. But it cannot be *the* manned flight mission of our generation.

Visions create budgets. With 0.5% of the federal budget it is political will which is lacking, not money in society. That rock around the Moon thing is uninspiring and will only motivate further budget cuts. NASA will then end up “retrieving” a meteorite from a lake in Siberia by truck.

Marsbug
Member
Marsbug
March 26, 2014 9:30 AM
A well chosen asteroid would be representative of an entire asteroid class, and might well also be a representative sample of the pre biotic material that went towards the formation of life. The figures I’ve seen for the asteroid redirection are that the unmanned probe would reach the asteroid n 2019, and a manned rendezvous would happen around 2021. Those will slip, inevitably, but so would any figures for a Mars landing. The cost is estimated as around 2.6 billion USD. I expect that will also slip, but not to anything like as high as the lowest estimate of a manned Mars landing. I initially got these figures from here: http://kiss.caltech.edu/study/asteroid/asteroid_final_report.pdf but there are any number of articles… Read more »
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