Asteroids may pose a threat to all life on earth and NASA is looking for solutions. NASA launched a program, Asteroid Redirect Mission, with the objective of looking for ways to stop killer asteroids.
NASA is looking for ideas in five areas relevant to asteroid capture: asteroid capture, secondary payloads, national and international partnership opportunities, sensor systems and adapting commercial spacecraft buses. Proposals will be evaluated in part for their cost. The real goal of the Grand Challenge is to produce new ideas and technologies that NASA can use in future missions, specifically to Mars. Reaching outside NASA for some of those ideas is part of this search for new ideas, according to a statement by William Gerstenmaier of NASA.
In addition to asking for ways to stop killer asteroids, NASA wants other asteroid-related ideas. While the main focus is on capturing and redirecting an asteroid, there are other components. NASA is also willing to reward smaller developments that would support asteroid avoidance and advances in rendezvous sensors that would be useful in a capture mission. Future awards will apply to commercial spacecraft adapted to serve in the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Existing commercial launch vehicles are only able to reach low-earth orbit, so major engineering work would be needed to produce a vehicle capable of a circumlunar mission.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission is part of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, a program focused on protecting Earth from rogue asteroids and comets. The Challenge has three main components. First, a target for exploration needs to be identified. A robotic mission must be launched, capture the asteroid and steer it into orbit around the moon. The third part of the challenge is to send people to the asteroid, collect samples and return to earth.
The challenge comes with a number of stipulations, in addition to technical requirements. For example, proposals may not include “bilateral participation, collaboration, or coordination with China or any Chinese-owned company.”
Companies and organizations with ways to stop killer asteroids are otherwise welcome to submit their ideas for the NASA challenge. The deadline for submissions to the challenge is May 5th. Final delivery of the funded ideas must happen by the end of 2014. The competition was announced in a news release on Friday, March 21.
The NASA Mission will attempt to capture an asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon. The agency is offering up to $6 million in rewards and is accepting 25 proposals. Other organizations have an interest in defending against NEOs. The United Nations will be in charge of the International Asteroid Warning Group. New Technologies used for the asteroid redirect mission will be vital to a future Mars mission. The Orion Spacecraft and the Space Launch System rocket are two examples of those components.
NASA will hold an Asteroid Initiatives Opportunities Forum on March 26 to provide updates on the asteroid redirect mission and on its Grand Challenge. The NASA search for ways to stop killer asteroids will continue well after the end of the competition.
By Chester Davis