Print 12 comment(s) - last by FormulaRedline.. on Jun 25 at 11:34 AM

The space agency will decide by the end of the year if this is the chosen asteroid

NASA has been planning to capture an asteroid for experimental purposes, and it looks like the space agency has a few candidates in mind.
According to NASA, the prime candidate is an asteroid called 2011 MD. The plan is to capture the asteroid, shift it to a stable orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to explore it. NASA hopes to launch its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic spacecraft to rendezvous with 2011 MS in the year 2019, and send astronauts to it some time during the following decade while it orbits the moon.
The NASA report indicated that 2011 MD is about the size of a delivery truck, weighs 100 tons, and is the main focus right now due to its activity above Earth during the year 2011. The Spitzer Space Telescope caught a glimmer of 2011 MD 7,600 miles above our home planet at that time. 
But just how do you capture an asteroid? NASA's plan is to either use a giant claw or inflatable bag.

Image of 2011 MD taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope [Source: NASA]

If things don't turn out as planned with 2011 MD, NASA's next option is to send a spacecraft to a larger asteroid, extract a chunk of it, and bring it to the moon for exploration.
NASA is set to decide between the two options by the end of the year, and there are currently three candidates per option. 
"Observing these elusive remnants that may date from the formation of our solar system as they come close to Earth, is expanding our understanding of our world and the space it resides in," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
"Closer study of these objects challenge our capabilities for future exploration and will help us test ways to protect our planet from impact. The Spitzer observatory is one of our tools to identify and characterize potential candidate targets for the asteroid mission."
NASA, however, won't stop at just one asteroid. It plans to capture 10 asteroids of various sizes by the early 2020s. 

Source: NASA

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what is the point of this?
By Bubbacub on 6/23/2014 7:48:28 PM , Rating: 4
1. This is a boondoggle mission to give some pretend value to SLS.

2. SLS can't send an Orion to actually get to the asteroid so we have to redirect it. If we are re- directing it , why not redirect it to orbit earth then any number of non 2 billion dollar launch vehicles could be used to 'explore' a fairly boring piece of rubble.

3. No useful task will be achieved - if NASA were funded to perform some sort of ISRU task with the asteroid then it would be a useful task - instead they will get the bare minimum of funding to put some boots on some gravel in space.

4. Just go to the moon and do something useful in terms of testing truly closed life support systems that could then be used for Mars.

5. This porky rocket is going to be the death of NASA.

RE: what is the point of this?
By m51 on 6/24/2014 12:36:12 AM , Rating: 3
1. It's actually a fairly interesting mission from a scientific and technology development point. It also is an opportunity to further develop high power Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), which appears to be the most promising propulsion technology for BEO missions and space tugs. I'll grant you that it doesn't seem to grab the average person's interest though.

2. To send Orion out and back to a NEA would require a mission in the hundreds of days. We're not ready for that. This is an early days mission. like only the first or second flight of SLS with humans.

Due to orbital mechanics and the advantages of SEP propulsion it's possible to capture and redirect a sizeable asteroid into a lunar retrograde orbit. Bringing the asteroid down into the earth's gravity well though would be orders of magnitude more difficult. The asteroid would have to be so small in fact that it would be difficult to detect a candidate asteroid to go after.

3. Sigh... Lots of useful tasks can be accomplished. You appear to have made up your mind before you had any information to work with. Lots of info on the web. go forth and read.

4. Closed life support systems are more readily tested in space, not on the moon. Most of the time for mars missions is spent in transit, not on mars.

5. Unfortunately you may not be wrong on this one. SLS is a great rocket from a capability standpoint, heavy lift, large volume fairing, etc. However there is no money left over for developing missions to fly on it. NASA direction has been hijacked by political and corporate interests. Senator Shelby of Alabama and Senator Nelson of Florida priorities are to shovel money into their states and into the aerospace contractors like Boeing, and not towards a coherent human space flight goal.
The SLS is so expensive to fly, and the yearly overhead to maintain the capability to fly it is so large that there is effectively no money left over to develop missions to fly on it. Currently it seems like it will only be able to fly once a year to once every two years. It's highly likely it will get cancelled at some point.

SLS is defined more on political and pork reasons that towards an actual mission goal that fits within the budget limitations. We would have been much better served by developing in space fuel depot technology to enable BEO missions using existing EELV launch vehicles.

To actually use the SLS NASA would need about a $3 billion a year budget increase, which is just never going to happen.

RE: what is the point of this?
By w8gaming on 6/24/2014 2:17:21 AM , Rating: 2
A Mars mission would be best to spend 2 years on Mars surface for experiment and exploration though, otherwise it is a waste of the 16 months long trip back and forth. It also has the advantage to start the trip back to Earth while the distance is the shortest.

Sometimes I can't help but noticing if Apple owns NASA it would have the money to actually do something for space explorations, with millions of people all over the world contributing to such budget. Maybe one day space explorations will really kick off when a successful private business own the rights and means to do this on their own.

RE: what is the point of this?
By maugrimtr on 6/24/2014 9:05:26 AM , Rating: 2
Of course the SLS a boondoggle... When our goal was the moon, we needed (desperately needed) a gigantic rocket. So we built one. We don't go to the moon anymore. We keep talking about going to Mars, but nobody has ever authorized a realistic set of missions to accomplish that (exploring a tiny asteroid is not the same as exploring a planet).

Instead, a bunch of politicians decided that we needed a gigantic rocket because it will employ those designing, testing and building it in their home states/districts. It was only after they realized that they had the damn thing, that they actually had to go somewhere or it would look bad.


Not to be a downer, any mission to space has scientific value. We could learn a lot about the formation of the solar system, about how to send astronauts off for weeks at a time, how to capture and redirect asteroids for the future mining corporations stationed on Mars ;). Maybe. Scientific knowledge is worth having - I just don't think you really need a gigantic rocket for it.

Eventually we'll need the SLS (or rather its Star Trek era successor) perhaps a few millions years from now should the Sun decide to enter retirement and become a Red Giant that will either roast every living thing on Earth to death or just expand right over us.

Mars would look pretty attractive for whoever can hop a spaceship off-world when that day comes...

NASA is a bit of a dumb brick getting tossed around by politicians. Its budget is actually falling in real terms

Let's just make certain, NASA.....
By marvdmartian on 6/23/2014 2:04:53 PM , Rating: 2
....that we don't end up recreating this scene, eh?

RE: Let's just make certain, NASA.....
By w8gaming on 6/23/2014 2:49:36 PM , Rating: 2
It is only the size of a delivery truck, far too small to survive the atmosphere if it is falling towards earth.

By marvdmartian on 6/24/2014 10:03:14 AM , Rating: 2
You hope!

Though the density of the material in the asteroid makes a difference in its survivability. It also makes a difference in whether the oil rig astronauts can successfully drill into it, to plant the nuclear bomb that will crack it in half, and save all of humanity.

Or didn't you see Armageddon?? ;)

By Iketh on 6/23/2014 6:22:40 PM , Rating: 3
How do you "explore" something the size of a UPS truck? Terminology used is a little odd to me.

RE: explore?
By rountad on 6/23/2014 6:34:42 PM , Rating: 2
Trained ants!

By Visual on 6/25/2014 3:59:17 AM , Rating: 2
Unlike asteroids around Kerbin, these are likely to have non-zero rotation, and so capturing one would be quite a feat. Perhaps the only possible way is to rotate the capturing craft in the same way and grab the asteroid exactly on the rotation axis. But that point will be the least optimal for stopping its rotation.

I'm really curious how they will solve that. It will be an interesting experiment, for sure...

By FormulaRedline on 6/25/2014 11:34:34 AM , Rating: 2
Good point. This is the first time KSP has ever failed to prepare me for the real world.


By Shadowmaster625 on 6/24/2014 10:13:02 AM , Rating: 2
I can see it now. Hackers take control of the asteroid and direct it to crash into Chicago. Or DC? Being fiction, it would of course be a much larger asteroid than we'd be capable of moving in reality.

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