NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission: A Step to Mars

NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission will robotically capture and then redirect a small asteroid into a stable lunar orbit, where astronauts can safely visit and study it. The asteroid could remain in place for several decades, allowing NASA and its partners to conduct scientific investigations and develop capabilities for deep-space exploration.

This mission aligns current agency investments into one integrated mission portfolio — including an increased asteroid observation campaign, development of an asteroid capture spacecraft powered by advanced solar electric propulsion (SEP), and a robust manifest for NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket and Orion crew vehicle.

Experts have developed a range of criteria to select a suitable target asteroid for the redirect mission. The ideal candidate will be in a natural orbit that brings it close to Earth in the 2020s, and could be up to 10 meters in diameter, which would fit snugly onto a racquetball court. At that size, even if it survived entry into Earth’s atmosphere, it would disintegrate before hitting the surface, so the mission poses no risk to our planet.

While options for the specific capture mechanism are in the early stages of engineering review, NASA has ongoing investments in SEP, which uses power converted from sunlight to produce a continuous low thrust at very high efficiency levels, which substantially reduces the amount of propellant needed.

In late July, NASA conducted its asteroid mission formulation review, which brought together agency leaders from across the country to examine internal studies proposing multiple concepts and alternatives for each phase of the mission. Currently, NASA is assessing the more than 400 responses received to a request for information in which industry, universities, and the public offered ideas for the initiative.

Watch a video animation of the mission on Tech Briefs TV at www.techbriefs.com/tv/asteroid-redirect.