Nasa wants to give the Moon a mini moon (Wired UK)


NASA


Nasa wants to give the Moon a moon.

The space agency has unveiled new plans to redirect a large piece of an
asteroid into lunar orbit, for later exploration by a manned crew
of astronauts in the mid-2020s.

The space agency said
the $1.25bn (£8.4m) mission would be a crucial step towards
learning how to divert an asteroid — which will be handy in the
actually-pretty-likely instance that one is discovered to be on a
collision course with Earth at some point in the future. It will
also allow Nasa to test new technologies like solar electric
propulsion, which could eventually help take human astronauts to
Mars — or provide a cheaper way to send unmanned craft with
equipment and supplies to the Red Planet. The Asteroid
Redirect Mission
(ARM) will “demonstrate the capabilities we’re
going to need for further future human missions beyond low Earth
orbit and then ultimately to Mars” said Robert Lightfoot, Nasa’s
associate administrator.

Rather than capturing an entire asteroid, as had been proposed
as one of two options for the mission, Nasa said it will instead
send a robotic spacecraft to land on and blast apart one of three
near-Earth objects. The agency will choose between three current
candidates for the experiment (asteroids Itokawa, Bennu and 2008
EV5) but is keeping its options open until it makes a final
decision in 2019, a year before the mission is launched.

Once the robot lands on the chosen target, it will capture the
boulder with a set of robotic arms, then return to the Moon’s orbit
(over about six years) with the four-metre tonne rock in tow.
But it will first spend 400 days circling the asteroid, testing
whether it can affect the rock’s gravitational path enough in order
to adjust its trajectory — as might be needed one day, if an
asteroid is found to be heading our way. The technique, known as a
“gravity tractor”, should allow the ARM spacecraft to pull the
asteroid without actually touching it, and would be even easier if
the boulder were captured and extracted first.

Once the asteroid captures the boulder it will place it in a
stable distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. Nasa will then
send a manned crew to the rock for up to 25 days, using its new
Orion capsule and the Space Launch System rocket. The crew will use
the opportunity to test procedures for capturing and returning
samples on Mars, as well
as other crucial systems.

Asteroid Redirect Mission: Crew SegmentNASA.gov Video

“This crewed mission will further test many capabilities needed
to advance human spaceflight for deep space missions to Mars and
elsewhere, including new sensor technologies and a docking system
that will connect Orion to the robotic spacecraft carrying the
asteroid mass,” Nasa said. “Astronauts will conduct spacewalks
outside Orion to study and collect samples of the asteroid boulder
wearing new spacesuits designed for deep space missions.”

The agency also said that it had detected almost twice as many
near-Earth objects (NEOs) in 2014 (1,472) as it had in 2011 (893),
thanks largely to a vastly expanded budget from around $4m (£2.7m)
a year in the 90s to more than $40m (£27m) last year. Nasa is now
looking to boost that again to more than $50m (£33.7) in 2016, but
said while more than 12,000 asteroids larger than a kilometre
across are now on the books, none pose a devastating threat to
Earth in the next 100 years… that we know about.

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26 March 2015 | 2:29 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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