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New Images and Animation Released of Future Asteroid Mission

NASA’s Orion spacecraft approaching the robotic asteroid capture vehicle. Image credit: NASA

NASA’s Orion spacecraft approaching the robotic asteroid capture vehicle. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Asteroid Initiative is a potential flagship mission, which could begin as early as 2015, to capture and investigate a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) and explore it with both unmanned and crewed spacecraft. On Thursday, Aug. 22, the agency released concept artwork and video animations showing various stages of the mission as currently envisaged.

The first phase of the Asteroid Initiative would involve a solar-electric powered robotic vehicle capturing a small NEA in a 15-meter-diameter bag and redirecting it into an orbit around the Moon. Later, in about 2021, a crewed Orion spacecraft would be launched to dock with the redirect craft and collect samples of the asteroid for study in labs on Earth.

An astronaut collecting a sample from the captured asteroid. Image Credit: NASA

An astronaut collecting a sample from the captured asteroid. Image Credit: NASA

The new images supplied by NASA depict Orion’s approach to and arrival at the asteroid and the steps by which astronauts will secure samples from the surface of the rocky body. A dramatic animation, prepared by Johnson Space Center Advanced Concept Lab, collapses the entire manned mission, from launch to splashdown, into a three-and-a-half-minute sequence.

The Asteroid Initiative has two overarching goals: to learn more about NEAs, which pose an ongoing threat to human and other life on Earth, and to develop technologies and techniques for use in future crewed deep space missions. As NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has put it: “This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities and help protect our home planet.” A Presidential FY 2014 budget request for $104 million has been put forward as a first step toward funding the enterprise.

Central to the Asteroid Initiative is the exploitation of leading edge technologies that will be used on other crewed ventures further afield. These include advanced solar electric propulsion and NASA’s in-development Space Launch System rocket and the above-mentioned Orion spacecraft.

In late July, NASA brought together senior personnel to carry out a formulation review of the asteroid mission. This involved scrutinizing various internal studies and proposals regarding each phase of the mission and assessing technical and programmatic aspects. Agency engineers are also looking at more than 400 responses that have been received to a request for ideas from industry, academia, and the public at large.

Next on the calendar of the Initiative is a NASA-hosted technical workshop at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. This will be used to discuss further the responses and ideas that have come in and, where appropriate, to incorporate them into the mission concept.

 

Video courtesy of NASA

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7 comments to New Images and Animation Released of Future Asteroid Mission

  • Ben Harrison

    It’s an interesting proposal, but it seems a little forced. More of an idea that is being proposed to use the SLS and Orion than for being a good idea based on it’s own merit.

    I saw recently that NASA’s Office of the Inspector General put out a report on the Orion, and it was not encouraging. I don’t recall if AmericaSpace covered it, but the report stated in part:

    For example, unless NASA begins a program to develop landers and surface systems, NASA astronauts will be limited to orbital missions using the MPCV. Under the current budget environment, it appears unlikely that NASA will obtain significant funding to begin development of this additional exploration hardware, thereby delaying such development into the 2020s.

    Even if this mission is a good idea, without a significant increase in funding for NASA, it’s destined to be just another powerpoint exercise.

    One other thing from the NASA Inspector General report, the Orion is now forecasted to cost $16 billion by the time the first crew flies on it in 2021. That’s double the amount I’d heard it was supposed to cost when the MPCV version was proposed. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong, but that sure is a lot for just a four person capsule.

    • Leonidas

      I also read the news about the OIG report and it’s troubling.

      From what I understand, the cost overruns are in part caused by the current fiscal environent of ‘pay-as-we-go’. Since NASA can’t receive adequate funding for completing all the necessary systems and hardware concurrently, schedules will slip, that will mean more delays and the costs will rise.

      The old saying ‘No bucks, no Buck Rogers’ is proven once more.

  • Stuart

    Sadly Nasa appear to be “treading water” doing what it can with the budget it is given.

    If only “Space” was popular with politicians for science and exploration reasons rather than job (not wealth) creation.

    It’s rather like watching a car crash in slow motion.

    You just know what the underfunding will cause but carry on regardless.

  • Tracy

    Well maybe NASA should be privatized in that the systems and technology they develop become their property and they can then license it for a fee to the private space sector and then use the money to pay for their budget or part of it….Rather than just give it away….What are they going to do with this Asteroid after they catch it?…Probably give it to Planetary Resources (Bechtel)

    • Ben Harrison

      Well maybe NASA should be privatized in that the systems and technology they develop become their property and they can then license it for a fee to the private space sector and then use the money to pay for their budget or part of it

      I’m not exactly sure what you mean, but if you mean that NASA should be selling stuff in order to provide funding for NASA, then that won’t happen. NASA is a taxpayer-funded agency, and Congress can provide it with however much money Congress wants it to have, no bake sales needed. As it stands today Congress doesn’t want to give NASA much money.

      The flip side of that is that NASA has a technology transfer program to transfer tax-payer funded technology to the private sector and state and local governments for the purposes of commercial and other application of the technology for the national benefit. In fact every Federal agency does that, not just NASA.

      As to what they will do with an asteroid, they will just take samples of it. But since it will likely stay under some sort of control, I think it will be looked at as “property” of the U.S., and just wait for a good future use for it. Hopefully it doesn’t become a hazard.

      • Tracy

        Ben,
        Clearly the current Funding concept no longer works for NASA as space will become the next “Wild West”….

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