Asteroid Redirect Mission

A new report chartered by NASA provides input to important areas of robotic mission requirements development and explores the science benefits and potential knowledge gain from the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). NASA will visit an asteroid boulder during the Proving Ground phase of its journey to Mars in cislunar space – the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple stable staging orbits for future deep space missions.

 The ARV captures a boulder from the asteroid’s surface
The ARV captures a boulder from the asteroid’s surface

Read the Report:
Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Final Report

Data from the Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) report will help with the development and design of the robotic portion of the mission, spacecraft, and boulder capture. The report answers questions posed by engineers developing requirements, including the origins of the reference “parent” asteroid from which a multi-ton boulder will be collected, boulder spatial and size distributions, geotechnical properties, robotic handling of the selected boulder, and crew safety and containment considerations.

Also included in the report are investigations that could provide additional benefit from the mission, through potential partner provided sensors, subsystems, or candidate operations. The work of the FAST focused on science, planetary defense, asteroidal resources and in-situ resource utilization, and capability and technology demonstrations. The expert team’s priorities were put into categories based on their benefits and relevance to ARM and NASA goals.

“We received really comprehensive responses to all of the questions we posed to the FAST,” said Dr. Michele Gates, ARM program director. “The findings in this report have been particularly helpful as we develop requirements and system design for the robotic spacecraft. We’ve learned a lot about the asteroid’s characteristics, which will be important for the capture system that will collect the asteroid and even for handling and containment techniques that the astronauts will have to practice before sampling it.”

NASA issued a membership call to the public last year to create the FAST and draft the report. The ARM FAST consisted of primarily non-NASA participants who participated in requirement formulation efforts during the initial development phase of the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM). The agency ultimately selected 18 engineers and scientists out of 100 applicants from academia and industry to work with three NASA leaders on the report.

Orbit around the moon
The ARV demonstrates planetary defense on a hazardous-size asteroid before it begins its
transit toward a stable orbit around the moon.

“We had originally planned to select approximately 12-15 members for the FAST,” said Dan Mazanek, Senior Space Systems Engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and ARM Mission Investigator. “However, due to the large number of exceptionally qualified applicants and the diversity needed to support the ARRM Requirements Closure TIM, we decided to expand the team to a total of 18 members.”

NASA released a draft of the report in November 2015 for public comment before finalizing the report.

“The asteroid community’s response to the membership call was astounding,” said Gates. “We’ve made a conscientious effort over the past few years to encourage external participation in this mission, and this FAST is a brilliant result of those efforts. It is remarkable that the team was able to collaborate at such a rapid pace and provide us with the many valuable inputs we received.”

As the first mission to robotically capture an asteroid mass and deliver it to an orbit around the moon where astronauts can investigate it, the Asteroid Redirect Mission uniquely transcends and combines traditional robotic and human exploration mission formulation processes. This coupling has garnered significant interest from the science and human exploration communities, allowing NASA to leverage the world’s top scientific and engineering minds throughout the planning of the ARM and the journey to Mars.

Investigating the asteroid boulder
The astronauts will conduct future spacewalks to investigate the asteroid boulder before returning to Earth with samples.

The astronauts conduct spacewalks to investigate the asteroid boulder before returning to Earth with samples.

Feb. 18, 2016
Editor: Erin Mahoney

Small Asteroid to Pass Close to Earth March 5, 2016

A small asteroid that two years ago flew past Earth at a comfortable distance of about 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers) will safely fly by our planet again in a few weeks, though this time it may be much closer.

During the upcoming March 5 flyby, asteroid 2013 TX68 could fly past Earth as far out as 9 million miles (14 million kilometers) or as close as 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers). The variation in possible closest approach distances is due to the wide range of possible trajectories for this object, since it was tracked for only a short time after discovery.

Scientists at NASA’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have determined there is no possibility that this object could impact Earth during the flyby next month. But they have identified an extremely remote chance that this small asteroid could impact on Sep. 28, 2017, with odds of no more than 1-in-250-million. Flybys in 2046 and 2097 have an even lower probability of impact.

“The possibilities of collision on any of the three future flyby dates are far too small to be of any real concern,” said Paul Chodas, manager of CNEOS. “I fully expect any future observations to reduce the probability even more.”

Asteroid 2013 TX68 is estimated to be about 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter. By comparison, the asteroid that broke up in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, three years ago was approximately 65 feet (20 meters) wide. If an asteroid the size of 2013 TX68 were to enter Earth’s atmosphere, it would likely produce an air burst with about twice the energy of the Chelyabinsk event.

The asteroid was discovered by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey on Oct. 6, 2013, as it approached Earth on the nighttime side. After three days of tracking, the asteroid passed into the daytime sky and could no longer be observed. Because it was not tracked for very long, scientists cannot predict its precise orbit around the sun, but they do know that it cannot impact Earth during its flyby next month.

“This asteroid’s orbit is quite uncertain, and it will be hard to predict where to look for it,” said Chodas. “There is a chance that the asteroid will be picked up by our asteroid search telescopes when it safely flies past us next month, providing us with data to more precisely define its orbit around the sun.”
For regular updates on passing asteroids, NASA has a list of the next five close approaches to Earth; it links to the CNEOS website with a complete list of recent and upcoming close approaches, as well as all other data on the orbits of known NEOs, so scientists and members of the media and public can track information on known objects.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration
DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
Editor: Tony Greicius