Asteroid Sample Storage This concept image shows an astronaut storing a sample that was collected from the captured asteroid. Credit: NASA

Asteroid Sample Storage This concept image shows an astronaut storing a sample that was collected from the captured asteroid.
Credit: NASA

NASA announced today more details in its plan for an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).

The decision has been made for an uncrewed solar electric-powered ARM spacecraft to rendezvous with a target asteroid, then deploy robotic arms to capture a boulder from the asteroid’s surface.

The ARM craft would then begin a multi-year journey to redirect the boulder into orbit around the Moon. It will take approximately six years for the ARM robotic spacecraft to move the asteroid mass into lunar orbit.

According to NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, that 4-meter boulder placed in a stable orbit around the Moon would eventually be explored by astronauts.

Asteroid Redirect Vehicle Landing on asteroid. Once the boulder is secured, the Capture and Restraint System legs will provide a mechanical push off that will separate the boulder from the surface and provide an initial ascent without the use of thrusters to limit the amount of debris created. Credit: NASA

Asteroid Redirect Vehicle Landing on asteroid. Once the boulder is secured, the Capture and Restraint System legs will provide a mechanical push off that will separate the boulder from the surface and provide an initial ascent without the use of thrusters to limit the amount of debris created.
Credit: NASA

The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft.

NASA has identified three candidates for the mission so far: Itokawa, Bennu and 2008 EV5. The agency expects to identify one or two additional candidates each year leading up to the mission.

Planetary defense test

Before the piece of the asteroid is moved to lunar orbit, NASA will use the opportunity to test planetary defense techniques to help mitigate potential asteroid impact threats in the future. The experience and knowledge acquired through this operation will help NASA develop options to move an asteroid off an Earth-impacting course, if and when that becomes necessary.

Astronaut investigates the boulder captured from an asteroid. Shown is an astronaut, anchored to a foot restraint, preparing to investigate the asteroid boulder.  Credit: NASA

Astronaut investigates the boulder captured from an asteroid. Shown is an astronaut, anchored to a foot restraint, preparing to investigate the asteroid boulder.
Credit: NASA

In the mid-2020s, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will launch on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket, carrying astronauts on a mission to rendezvous with and explore the asteroid mass. The current concept for the crewed mission component of ARM is a two-astronaut, 24-25 day mission.

According to NASA, working with the Moon’s gravity, the asteroid would be placed in a stable lunar orbit called a distant retrograde orbit. In terms of honing future in-space skills, this is a suitable staging point for astronauts to rendezvous with a deep space habitat that would carry them to Mars.

Cost of the ARM enterprise: $1.25 billion plus the cost of the launch vehicle.

For more information on NASA’s ARM effort, go to:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/asteroids/initiative/index.html

Leave a Reply

Griffith Observatory Event