The U.S. space agency says its proposed asteroid capture mission takes several of NASA’s ongoing initiatives and aligns them for one major mission.
These chunks of ancient space rocks hold clues about the formation of the universe, pose threats to our planet, and present new territory for explorers.
NASA’s proposed asteroid mission is a logical next leap for the space agency, says associate administrator for human exploration and operations Bill Gerstenmaier.
“It essentially fits right with what we were doing already. This whole mission activity captures a lot of what we were doing before. It captures the observation things. It captures the electric propulsion, and it captures and utilizes our Orion and SLS just as it was envisioned,” said Gerstenmaier of the capsule and rocket.
Astronomers already are identifying and tracking near-Earth asteroids in an attempt to find potential threats, which will help as NASA chooses a target.
And the space agency’s engineers are working on propulsion technologies that use sunlight to efficiently produce low thrust, reducing the amount of propellant needed for such a mission.
“We’re going to capture and redirect a 7-10 meter, approximately 500-ton near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit in translunar space, probably a deep retrograde orbit around the moon, and this will enable an astronaut mission to the asteroid as early as 2021,” said Gerstenmaier.
A successful mission would show that humans can alter an asteroid’s path, and be useful if one is found to be a danger to Earth.