Say a giant asteroid is hurtling towards Earth that could end all life… What is our line of defence? Well, that’s what NASA is working on with its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which just emerged from the first planning stages.
The idea is as simple as it is ludicrous – it is a giant robotic arm that will travel to near-Earth asteroids (fewer than 121 million miles from the sun at the closest point in their orbit), capture them and drag it off course via an orbit around the moon.
Using this gravitational orbit, astronauts can then hitch a ride on the asteroid and collect samples for examination, before either sending it on its way or blowing it to smithereens. Better than crashing spacecraft into it like we humans have been known to do.
Cool! What’s the timeline on this?
Well… It’s going to be up to a decade. Sorry that it’s going to be so long, but space efforts usually are!
NASA has just crossed a milestone though, known as Key Decision Point-B, or KDP-B for short. This is where the team establish the content, cost and schedule for all the work to be done in Phase B.
The robotic mission is set to launch in December 2021. After a $1.4 billion investment into the project for “industry robotic spacecraft development.” In 2026, we should see crewed missions, but they are still in an early concept phase.
So what exactly are you showing me here?
At the moment, it’s a couple of experiments and a whole load of talking. But the concept is extremely exciting.
The ARM will show off some impressive new technologies like high-power solar electric propulsion, a new generation of autonomous operations, and brand new developments in controlled lift-offs and touchdowns.
Beyond this, we will find out so much more about space with our manned missions – allowing astronauts to extract samples and examine them, along with figuring out how to artificially enhance humans with robotics.
“This is an exciting milestone for the Asteroid Redirect Mission,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “Not only is ARM leveraging agency-wide capabilities, it will test a number of new technologies already in development.”
So, a lot to look forward to in the next decade!
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