Sunday, April 7, 2013

NASA Plans to Capture Asteroid In 2019, Park It Next to The Moon

NASA's accelerated vision for exploration calls for moving a near-Earth asteroid even nearer to Earth, sending out astronauts to bring back samples within a decade, and then shifting the focus to Mars, a senior Obama administration official told NBC News on Saturday.

The official said the mission would "accomplish the president's challenge of sending humans to visit an asteroid by 2025 in a more cost-effective and potentially quicker time frame than under other scenarios." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no authorization to discuss the plan publicly.

The source said more than $100 million would be sought for the mission and other asteroid-related activities in its budget request for the coming fiscal year, which is due to be sent to Congress on Wednesday. That confirms comments made on Friday by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a one-time spaceflier who is now chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space. It also confirms a report about the mission that appeared last month in Aviation Week. T

he asteroid retrieval mission is based on a scenario set out last year by a study group at the Keck Institute for Space Studies. NASA's revised scenario would launch a robotic probe toward a 500-ton, 7- to 10-meter-wide (25- to 33-foot-wide) asteroid in 2017 or so. The probe would capture the space rock in a bag in 2019, and then pull it to a stable orbit in the vicinity of the moon, using a next-generation solar electric propulsion system. That would reduce the travel time for asteroid-bound astronauts from a matter of months to just a few days.

The Keck study estimated the total mission cost at $2.6 billion — but the administration official said the price tag could be reduced to $1 billion, or roughly $100 million a year, if the mission took advantage of an already-planned test flight for NASA's heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew exploration vehicle. That flight would send astronauts around the moon and back in 2021.

"This mission would combine the best of NASA's asteroid identification, technology development, and human exploration efforts to capture and redirect a small asteroid to just beyond the moon to set up a human mission using existing resources and equipment, including the heavy-lift rocket and deep-space capsule that have been under development for several years," the official said in an email.

The 2014 budget would set aside $78 million for planning the asteroid retrieval mission, plus $27 million to accelerate NASA's efforts to detect and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids. The federal government currently spends $20 million annually on asteroid detection.

Read the full article from NBCNEWS

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