NASA: 96 Things You Can Do With an Asteroid

Article written: 4 Sep , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

NASA is really getting into this crowd-sourcing thing. The space agency asked and the public responded with hundreds of ideas of what missions could be done with asteroids in regards to protecting Earth from these space rocks and finding an asteroid humans can explore. NASA received over 400 responses to their “Asteroid Initiative Request For Information” request, hearing from the space industry, universities, and the general public.

Now, after looking at all the responses, NASA has chosen 96 ideas it regards as most promising, ranging from asteroid observation plans to asteroid redirection, deflection or capture systems, to creating crowd sourcing and citizen science opportunities.

Next, NASA will host an Asteroid Initiative Idea Synthesis Workshop where NASA personnel and the space community will discuss and further these 96 ideas to narrow them down even further to help with its planning activities and future missions.
The 96 ideas were chosen by a team of NASA scientists, engineers, and mission planners who evaluated the proposed ideas. The evaluation team rated the responses for relevance to the RFI objectives, innovativeness of the idea, maturity of the development approach, and potential to improve mission affordability.

This is the first time NASA has used this type of crowd-sourcing and discussion method to look at possible future missions.

NASA said the ideas proposed “provide the agency with fresh insight into how best to identify, capture and relocate a near-Earth asteroid for closer study and respond to asteroid threats.” Ideas included pointers on how to decrease an asteroid’s spin, nudge it away from a path toward Earth, take samples to return to Earth and create activities to heighten public awareness of not only the threat asteroids pose, but the valuable resources and scientific benefits they may offer.

“This rich set of innovative ideas gathered from all over the world provides us with a great deal of information to factor into our plans moving forward,” said Robert Lightfoot, Associate Administrator for NASA. “We’re making great progress on formulating this mission, and we look forward to discussing further the responses we received to the RFI.”

The upcoming public workshop will be held on Sept. 30 – Oct. 2 and onsite participation is limited to just the presenters, but it appears the workshop will be webcast (more info later), as NASA said they will release information on virtual participation options as the workshop nears.

Source: NASA

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12 Responses

  1. Olaf2 says

    This asteroid is a big one that is not wrapped in plastic. Not a boring tiny one that is basically hidden in a plastic wrapping where the only thing they had to do was dock to the robot and have a half hour of drilling.

  2. David Krauss says

    “Identify, *capture*, and relocate” disagrees with “nudge it away from a path toward Earth”. Is the idea to capture it or to repel it? Does the repelling plan involve waiting for something of appreciable size that’s actually coming at us? Doesn’t repelling preclude the next step of having it come close enough to visit it?

    If we do capture an asteroid, then the key part would be reducing its relative velocity, right? How dangerous would that be? How much rock would be safe to keep in orbit, being mindful of the fact that someday it will finish the trip into our gravity well?

    Sorry for asking so many questions. They need a meeting of minds to make a mission, but many of the goals and ideas at this point seem contradictory.

    • Richard_Kirk says

      I don’t see a problem here. You don’t wait until you have a big asteroid heading towards Earth before you try out your asteroid deflection system. There are plenty of smaller asteroids that we can practice on. Changing the orbit of one of those would tell us whether the system is working. You try it out on a little one because that is cheaper, and we are not saving anything yet.

      However, before we try even that, we need to learn a bit more about the sort of asteroids that might present a threat. Do they have loose material sitting on the surface, or are they mostly big solid lumps. or something between the two? The basic gravitational tug method would work on all of these, but it is slow, so we would need a lot of warning to move anything significant by enough to avoid a collision. If the asteroid is not in a regular orbit, but just coming at us out of the dark, we may need more dramatic methods, and these may not work on all bodies.

      • David Krauss says

        But you forgot about the part involving visiting it. If we pick one that’s no heading toward us, then the deflection would be either useless, or would direct it closer to us, not further, which would probably be politically unpopular.

      • Richard_Kirk says

        I haven’t forgotten about visiting asteroids – I just think this is less likely to be of short-term use. Asteroids are a source of mineral outside the earth’s potential well, so some think that they may be useful or valuable. I, personally, think that is less likely in the short term, and not significant compared to the savings in deflecting a destructive impactor. However, if other people think differently, and if they contribute to a general effort that leaves us with a better understanding of asteroids, then that’s fine by me.

      • Robert says

        Excellent point about practicing, Richard. Learning to do this under emergency conditions is not that good an idea.

  3. Sue Bellingham says

    NASA is not “crowd sourcing”. It would be nice if the conceits of the Smartphone Generation weren’t overlaid on NASA processes of asking for creative public input that have, in fact, been in place for 40 years. (Twitter bozos didn’t do so well promoting the “Arab Spring” in Egypt, either, if you notice.) Stop listing to absurd things Apple marketing wants customers to believe about their “important” products.

  4. David Krauss says

    Crowdsourcing isn’t a big-corporate invention, and it has its rightful place in technology. But yeah, interplanetary exploration isn’t a democratic process.

    Pre-selling tickets to fund the development of space tourism is closer to what I understand to be crowdsourcing. But then again, I don’t use a smartphone.

  5. DistributedIntelligence says

    Things you can do with a captured asteroid. . .#97

    Once captured and mounted with a low impulse ion drive, the object becomes steerable. Once sterrable, the object becomes weaponized.

    There are four modes of attack using directed bolides.

    First, there is atmospheric detonation. For this mode of attack the object should be lower density, such as chondrite or high rock to metal ratios. The equivalent energy released from such an attack would be similar to a megaton class thermonuclear device detonated at high altitude, without the problem of fallout and includes the bonus of plausable deniability. The damage to the target would result from overpressure and perhaps limited thermal effects from the fireball.

    Second there is ground impact. This mode of attack would require a lower velocity trajectory for a chondrite or icy mass or a higher density nickel-iron object. This would result in deep penetration, thermal radiation, and a massive overpressure for a city-sized target. Underground structures could be effectivly neutralized without radiation, and the natural plausable deniability is an added political bonus.

    Thirdly there is ocean impact. This allows large tsumanis to be directed against coastal targets over a wide geographic area. It can also be used in deep water to destroy naval formations in the open ocean.

    Fourthly there is orbital fragmentation. This method involves the bolide being shattered in orbit, showering the paths of orbital vehicles with large clouds of particles moving at ballistic velocities.

    I’m amazing we didn’t see this coming.

  6. DistributedIntelligence says

    Right. . .because re-entering a massive object into a ground target from space has absolutely no military value, especially when the energies available are in the multi megaton range.

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