capturing an asteroid
April 6, 2013

Asteroid Landing Could Occur By 2021 Thanks To Relocation Plan

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA is reportedly planning to capture a small asteroid with a robotic spacecraft, and then move the space rock closer to Earth so that astronauts could travel there, analyze it and return home with samples.

Those plans were announced Friday by US Senator Bill Nelson, the chairman of the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee. The Florida senator said that Present Barack Obama is requesting that approximately $100 million be added to NASA´s 2014 budget for the mission, according to´s Kristen Butler.

The mission would involve launching the robotic craft to an asteroid, capturing it and then pulling it to a location near our moon. If the plan is approved, the asteroid-capturing robot could launch by 2017, and astronauts could fly to the newly relocated asteroid by 2021, Brian Vastag of the Washington Post explains.

“The president´s request includes $78 million for NASA to develop technologies for the project and $27 million for beefing up the agency´s asteroid-detection work. The mission would fulfill a goal Obama set three years ago to send astronauts to an asteroid,” said Vastag.

“The mission would marry ongoing NASA projects, including asteroid detection, robotic spacecraft development, the construction of a giant new rocket — the Space Launch System — and the building of a deep-space human exploration capsule called Orion. A non-crewed test launch of Orion is set for next year,” he added. “By this summer, NASA is to decide whether the project is feasible, according to agency documents.”

Nelson told Associated Press (AP) reporter Seth Borenstein that bringing the asteroid closer to Earth would reduce the estimated amount of time to complete the mission by as much as four-years. The additional funds would be used to help locate the ideal candidate for relocation.

“Under the plan, an Atlas V rocket would launch the robotic craft toward a 20- to 30-foot-wide asteroid,” Vastag said. “Upon arrival, the craft would deploy a big bag, stuff the asteroid into it and start motoring toward the moon. The Space Launch System and Orion would later deliver the human crew.”

“A 2012 study estimated that moving an asteroid to the moon could take six to 10 years, pushing the timeline for a human asteroid landing beyond 2021,” he added. “NASA would ultimately need $2.6 billion for the robotic capture phase, according to the study from the Keck Institute for Space Studies, and billions more for the human mission.”

It would mark the first time that mankind had ever attempted to manipulate such a massive space object, Georgia Institute of Technology aerospace engineering professor and former NASA chief technology officer Robert Braun told the AP.

“It's a great combination of our robotic and human capabilities to do the kind of thing that NASA should be doing in this century,” he said. However, former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweickart told the Washington Post that there are numerous difficulties to overcome in order for the project to be successful. Among them: managing to first find the perfect asteroid, and then figuring out exactly how to capture it for the relocation process.