Concept image shows an astronaut preparing to take samples from the captured asteroid after it has been relocated to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Hundreds of rings are affixed to the asteroid capture bag, helping the astronaut carefully navigate the surface.
Image Credit: NASA

NASA is going forward with its plan as outlined earlier this year – to capture an asteroid, move it into orbit around the Moon, send a manned mission to the asteroid, take samples to examine back on Earth.

The initial outline for the mission has been hammered out during the last few months. A specific NASA group assigned the task has been operating acting as a think-tank during the process, receiving ideas for how to accomplish this very ambitious and complicated mission.

Two Spacecraft

The basic idea is to send two different vehicles to the asteroid. One being an unmanned robotic asteroid catcher, with an engine powerful enough to move and park the asteroid in an orbit around the Moon. The proposed idea of an engine is a xenon-fueled and solar-powered ion-thruster which is very long lasting and efficient. Less powerful at first, but gaining momentum with time.

The other spacecraft would be the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle launched on a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, slinging two astronauts around the Moon to reach the captured asteroid after having traveled for a couple of days.

Another Giant Leap for Mankind

Once the astronauts have arrived at the asteroid they will dock with the robotic asteroid catcher. They will then spacewalk to the asteroid, film the endeavor, drill into it and collect samples for a whole 6-day mission. They will then head back to Earth. The trip will take 10 days in total. Using the Moon’s gravity to slingshot there and back to Earth.

This mission would help develop knowledge and skills useful for future asteroid impact avoidance, and also to gather knowledge essential for future asteroid mining and thereby pave the way for private initiatives.

Check out the clip below of the concept, as an animation featuring notional crew operations during NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission.

Asteroid Redirect Mission Page