NASA, in the attempt to place humans on Mars by the year 2030, is looking for assistance in the first phase of their plan. The pre-formulation phase has been opened to both public and private sectors to supply the agency with proposals in five topic areas. The five areas for which NASA is seeking proposals deal with asteroid capture systems, sensor systems, adapting commercial spacecraft, secondary payload feasibility studies, and both national and international partnership opportunities. While NASA is offering $6 million for these proposals, the proposals themselves should provide ways to keep expenses down. The initial goal of the mission is to capture and redirect an asteroid into a stable orbit around the moon. The end goal of the mission is to place astronauts on Mars.
NASA’s current time line for the Asteroid Redirect Mission is to look at available knowledge and ideas and create mission concept possibilities by early 2015. At that point, a review of those possibilities will take place and a specific mission idea will become the focus of future development. The goal to capture an asteroid or other suitable space rock and pull it into the orbit of the moon would be the initial step necessary. The next step for NASA after a successful asteroid capture and redirect mission would be to land astronauts on the captured rock for research and analysis. This mission goal is set for the year 2025 as directed by President Obama.
The successful implantation of missions to this point would then lead to sending astronauts to Mars. President Obama has directed NASA to achieve that goal by the year 2030. At the moment, the overall mission has been broken down into two major parts. Those parts are the Asteroid Grand Challenge mission and the Asteroid Redirect Mission. While the Asteroid Grand Challenge contest began March 17, it will run through August of this year. People may enter to win a share of the $35,000 NASA, in partnership with the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc., is offering for new computer algorithms that will detect asteroids with a minimum of false positives. The Asteroid Redirect Mission will focus on the collection of an asteroid with ability to redirect it into a stable lunar orbit.
The mission to land on the newly redirected asteroid will fall to NASA’s Orion spacecraft and astronaut crew. Their goal will be to land on the asteroid, collect data and samples, and return to Earth so the information gathered may be processed. The request for mission proposals, announced yesterday, will award $6 million for up to 25 companies. The proposal deadline is May 5 with NASA expecting to make an announcement of awards around July 1. The studies on the accepted proposals are expected to last about six months.
One of the main goals for the mission, according to James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for space technology programs at NASA, will be the reduction of costs associated with the Asteroid Redirect Mission. They will be looking at the most economical solutions not only for the spacecraft itself, but in the overall mission costs. Friday’s announcement also requested ideas for how these asteroid missions can support scientific research, future exploration, and possible commercial activities after the initial crewed landing on the captured asteroid. To date, there is no target asteroid for this retrieval mission.
By Dee Mueller