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article imageNASA moves on to next phase of Asteroid Redirect Mission

By Jack Derricourt     Aug 16, 2016 in Science
A movie trailer plays before you: the best space scientists of the private and public sector are teaming up to carry out an incredible mission — to relocate a scientifically-vital asteroid from space, into the orbit of the Moon.
It will take cunning, bravery and the greatest technologies available to humanity to succeed at this monumental task. Sounds like great sci-fi, right?
Except this is real life in 2016. NASA has moved on to the next step of its plans to redirect an asteroid into the Moon’s orbit. The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) has been approved by a key program review, allowing for the project to move ahead.
The mission will be divided into two stages: the first portion, slated for launch in December or 2021, will involve an unmanned effort to tow a multi-ton chunk of a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) back into lunar orbit. The second phase will send a crew to the orbiting asteroid, via an Orion spacecraft, to obtain samples for study. While the second phase is an essential portion of the ARM project as it currently stands, planning for the crewed mission remains very tentative, and the 2026 launch date being announced by NASA should be taken with a grain of salt.
The objectives of ARM are many. Chiefly, scientists want to observe an NEA up close, and to test out defence techniques against any hazardous, Earth-bound asteroids. New technologies, which could be vital to Mars missions to come, will also be tested: solar electric propulsion, or ion engines, will be tested for performance; and communication in space via broadband laser will also be thoroughly tested.
ARM is the kind of project that fans of space exploration could only dream of just a few years ago. It’s also the kind of public-private enterprise that groups in the burgeoning space sector have been hoping to see more of. Now that the project has been approved to move ahead, NASA has announced that it will issue a notice to private aerospace companies in September, opening up a competition for scientific payloads to be stowed aboard the robotic stage of ARM. NASA will also begin a review of companies proposing to join in the crewed portion of the research. During the robotic portion of the mission, NASA will investigate the possible value of regular asteroid mining — something that will entice commercial mining companies. Getting involved in such a venture at the initial stages could be incredibly beneficial.
While many are anxious to know which lucky asteroid will soon be floating a little closer to home, those eager NEA fans will have to wait. NASA does not think that a suitable applicant will be announced until 2020.
More about Space, NASA, Asteroid, publicprivate partnerships, commercial mining
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