One of NASA’s next steps is a robotics deep space mission to an asteroid, which will gather rock samples and expand upon NASA’s ability to detect and reduce the threat of an asteroid hitting the Earth. This task, called the Asteroid Redirect Robotic mission, will also pave the way for future human missions to Mars: its highest priority is to expand human reach into cislunar space and allow for the crewed Asteroid Redirect Mission.
To that end, the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is seeking American industry input for ideas on how to obtain an advanced solar electric-powered spacecraft for the mission.
The deep space solar electric propulsion needed for ARRM is being formulated to be a 20-fold improvement over the current state-of-the-art solar electric propulsion capability. Once on the asteroid, the robot in the first stage of ARM must be able to move a multi-ton boulder from the asteroid to a crew-accessible orbit around the moon. That orbit can then be used during future integrated crewed-robotic missions in cislunar space.
The robotic mission will enable NASA to learn more about the possibilities for in-situ resource usage from asteroids, as well as studying the composition and nature of these traveling space rocks. American commercial enterprises will also gain their first opportunities to mine an asteroid when the boulder is “parked” in cislunar orbit.
In order to reach NASA’s requirements, the ARRM spacecraft will need to demonstrate a “slow-push” planetary defense technique, in which it uses the spacecraft and the asteroid’s combined gravitational pull to change the course of the asteroid. One day, this might be used to prevent a large asteroid from impacting Earth.
The solar array aboard the spacecraft must generate about 50 kilowatts of power and include a capture system capable of carrying a 20 ton or larger boulder of six meters in width from the asteroid’s surface to an astronaut-accessible vehicle in orbit near the moon. At present, NASA is formulating the spacecraft to fit on a variety of potential launch vehicles, including either the Space Launch System or a commercially-provided rocket.
The spacecraft must be ready to launch by no later than the end of 2020.
“We’re eager to hear from American companies on their ideas for a spacecraft design that could accommodate our advanced solar electric propulsion requirements and robotic technologies,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “We’re also interested in what sorts of innovative commercial, international and academic partnerships opportunities might be practical and help reduce overall mission costs while still demonstrating the technologies we need for our journey to Mars.”
An online community update about the Asteroid Redirect Mission is being held now on Adobe Connect. More information about the commercial asteroid initiative can be found at the Asteroid Initiative’s website.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense