NASA has selected 18 proposals for studies under the Asteroid Redirect Mission Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). These six-month studies will mature system concepts and key technologies and assess the feasibility of potential commercial partnerships to support the agency's Asteroid Redirect Mission, a key part of the agency's stepping stone path to send humans to Mars.
The agency is working on two concepts for the mission. The first concept would fully capture a very small asteroid in free space and the other would retrieve a boulder off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would redirect an asteroid mass less than 10 meters in size to orbit the moon. Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) would rendezvous with the captured asteroid mass in lunar orbit and collect samples for return to Earth.
The BAA solicited proposals for studies in five key areas: asteroid capture systems, rendezvous sensors, adapting commercial spacecraft for the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle, partnerships for secondary payloads, and potential partnerships to enhance U.S. exploration activities in cis-lunar space in conjunction with the crewed mission. Proposals were selected in collaboration with NASA's Space Technology and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorates.
"With these system concept studies, we are taking the next steps to develop capabilities needed to send humans deeper into space than ever before, and ultimately to Mars, while testing new techniques to protect Earth from asteroids," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
The BAA builds upon more than 400 ideas that were gathered from the community through a Request for Information issued in June 2013, and the synthesis of the most promising ideas in a two-part public workshop held in September and November 2013.
"By investing in these studies, NASA will gain valuable insight into affordable ways to perform the Asteroid Redirect Mission while also advancing technologies needed to drive future exploration missions," said James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The total funding to be awarded for the selected six-month studies is approximately $4.9 million.
Four companies will conduct studies for an asteroid capture system:
- Airborne Systems North America in Santa Ana, California: The "Asteroid Capture System" study will fabricate and test a proof-of-concept inflatable capture system.
- Jacobs in Houston: "Asteroid Capture System Conceptual Study" that will test a subscale capture system using mechanically deployed booms.
- Altius Space Machines in Louisville, Colorado: The "Kraken Asteroid Boulder Retrieval System" will test prototype grasping arms and innovative gripper concepts for capturing a boulder off the surface of an asteroid.
- Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California: The "Autonomous Boulder Liberation Equipment" study will demonstrate robotic arms for placement and handling of pneumatic excavation tools, boulder jacking devices, and positive capture and restraint tools.
Rendezvous sensors will be the focus of two selected proposals:
- Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado: "Rendezvous Sensor Suite Development" to upgrade a visible camera and LIDAR developed for Orion to meet Asteroid Redirect Mission automated rendezvous and docking requirements.
- The Boeing Company in Huntington Beach, California: The "Asteroid Redirect Mission Rendezvous Sensors" activity leverages existing visible and infrared sensors and a 3D LIDAR to meet Asteroid Redirect Mission automated rendezvous and docking requirements.
Four studies will examine how to adapt commercial spacecraft for the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle:
- Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Denver-: The "Adapting Commercial Spacecraft for the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle" study will define system concepts for a Solar Electric Propulsion Module based on an existing commercial spacecraft bus and NASA Hall thrusters.
- ExoTerra Resource in Littleton, Colorado: The "Multipurpose SEP Module for ARM and Beyond" study will define concepts for an extensible multipurpose Solar Electric Propulsion module designed for launch on Falcon 9.
- The Boeing Company in Huntington Beach, California: The "Adapting Commercial Spacecraft for the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle" study will define and analyze variants of an existing commercial spacecraft with NASA-furnished solar arrays and Hall thrusters.
- Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California: The "Adapting Commercial Spacecraft for the Asteroid Redirect Vehicle" study will define system concepts that leverage an existing high-power commercial satellite bus to reduce costs.
Partnerships for secondary payloads will be the focus of five studies:
- The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California: "LIFE on ARM: Accommodating the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)" whose small passive payload on the Asteroid Retrieval Vehicle would transport extremophiles through deep space and return them to Earth to test panspermia and astrobiology.
- Planetary Resources Development Corp. in Redmond, Washington: The "Arkyd Spacecraft Collaboration with NASA's Asteroid Initiative" study will determine how three classes of small, low-cost spacecraft being developed by Planetary Resources could be modified to enhance NASA's planned asteroid missions.
- Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland: "Planetary Object Geophysical Observer (POGO)," a secondary payload that is a hopper to be dropped on the asteroid surface by the Asteroid Retrieval Vehicle to measure elemental composition of asteroid regolith at multiple locations.
- Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corp. in Pasadena, California: "Shotgun," a secondary payload that would deploy multiple small kinetic impactors from the Asteroid Retrieval Vehicle to characterize asteroid regolith.
- Deep Space Industries in Houston-: "Secondary Spacecraft in Support of ARM," which will assess three spacecraft types being developed by DSI for compatibility with the ARV or launch on SLS, and examine public-private partnership approaches.
Three studies will address potential partnerships to enhance U.S. exploration activities in cis-lunar space in conjunction with the crewed mission:
- Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corp. in Pasadena, California: The "NanoDrill and Caching System" study will develop concepts for drilling tools and sample caching systems that could be used by astronauts during a spacewalk on the asteroid.
- Deep Space Industries in Houston: The "Industry Funded Participation in the Asteroid Initiative" study will analyze the economic fundamentals of a commercially oriented Asteroid Initiative and develop figures of merit that are relevant to commercial needs. Potential demonstrations of in-situ resource utilization will also be assessed.
- Planetary Resources Development Corp. in Redmond, Washington: The "Planetary Resources ISRU Partnership with NASA's Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission" study will provide the commercial perspective on the challenges and opportunities that both government and businesses will face in partnering towards exploration and exploitation of space resources.
For more information about NASA's Asteroid Initiative and the Asteroid Redirect Mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative.
Materials provided by NASA. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.