August 23, 2013
NASA Reveals New Images, Video Of Asteroid Redirect Mission
[WATCH VIDEO: Asteroid Redirect Mission Concept Animation]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The space agency said it is developing the first-ever mission to identify, approach, capture and redirect a small asteroid into a stable orbit in lunar vicinity. The part of this mission would be performed by an asteroid capture vehicle, while another part of the mission would involve a two-person crew rendezvousing with the already caught asteroid.
Images released by NASA show the asteroid capture vehicle in a "stowed" configuration. The vehicle would release an object that stretches out like a vacuum cleaner tube for the asteroid to go into. Once the asteroid is inside the cylinder-shaped device, the robot collapses the tube-like object around it similar to a net, capturing the asteroid.
NASA is developing a cutting-edge solar-electric propulsion thruster that uses xenon ions for propulsion to help redirect the asteroid. An earlier version of this propulsion engine has been flying on NASA's Dawn mission to the asteroid belt.
"This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat and allows NASA to affordably pursue the Administration's goal of visiting an asteroid by 2025," NASA said. "It raises the bar for human exploration and discovery while taking advantage of the diverse talents at NASA."
The video depicts a manned mission heading towards a near-Earth asteroid aboard an Orion spacecraft. During the journey, the animation shows the crew relying on a lunar gravity assist in order to gain momentum to rendezvous with the asteroid.
After rendezvousing with the asteroid, crew members would connect NASA's Orion spacecraft to the robotic asteroid capture vehicle, where they would perform a spacewalk to collect samples to return back to Earth. The trip from Earth to the captured asteroid would take Orion and its two-person crew about nine days to complete.
The space agency said it is creating an asteroid mission baseline concept to develop further in 2014 to help engineers establish more details about the mission. NASA scientists will continue to evaluate several alternatives for consideration throughout mission planning.
NASA brought together agency leaders in July for an internal review of the multiple concepts and alternatives proposed for each phase of an asteroid mission. The experts also assessed technical and programmatic aspects of the mission. NASA said it is assessing more than 400 responses it has received from universities and the public on ideas for the potential asteroid mission.
The asteroid initiative capitalizes on activities across the agency's human exploration, space technology and science efforts. The space agency said it is enhancing its ongoing efforts to identify and characterize near-Earth objects for investigation, and to find potentially hazardous asteroids and targets for capture.
(LEFT) In this conceptual image, the two-person crew uses a translation boom to travel from the Orion spacecraft to the captured asteroid during a spacewalk. Credit: NASA
(RIGHT) This concept image shows an astronaut preparing to take samples from the captured asteroid after it has been relocated to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Hundreds of rings are affixed to the asteroid capture bag, helping the astronaut carefully navigate the surface. Credit: NASA