NASA to place an asteroid into orbit around the Moon

Apr 7, 2013
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NASA will likely be funded $105 million for a new mission proposed by the Obama administration. President Obama will likely request the $105 million when he releases his federal budget request for 2014 next week. In the mission, NASA will seek out a 500-ton near-Earth asteroid (NEA) about 25-foot long, capture it, and drag it into orbit around the Moon. NASA will then send astronauts, via NASA's upcoming Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket, to the asteroid in 2021 to study it and grab samples.

$78 million of the funding will be for NASA to develop the technologies for this mission. The goal is for NASA to be able to develop an asteroid-grabbing robotic spacecraft by 2017, and have an asteroid in orbit around the moon by 2019. The other $27 million will be used for discovering the best asteroid for this mission. This mission will also compliment NASA's other projects, including the "science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars," according to Senator Bill Nelson.

Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot more than $105 million to successfully complete the mission. A study done by Caltech's Keck Institute for Space Studies in Pasadena estimated that it may cost up to $2.6 billion in order to successfully drag the 500-ton asteroid into orbit around the moon. However, the mission would open new doors for space exploration. The Keck mission concept team stated,

"Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the "Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, [the Mars moons] Phobos and Deimos, Mars, and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt."

The NASA team says that a 25-foot asteroid is the best choice because it's too small to be a threat to the Earth, and it would just burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. NASA also announced that it has two other missions planned for 2017. One will be the $200 million TESS project, which will scan nearby stars for exoplanets, and the other is the NICER project, which will observe and measure the variability of cosmic X-ray sources. For more NASA news, be sure to check out our timeline below.

[via Space.com]


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