June 21, 2014 – NASA has awarded contracts to four Colorado companies for six-month studies that will assess the feasibility and key technologies for capturing and redirecting an asteroid.
NASA is working on two concepts for the mission. The first concept is to fully capture a very small asteroid in free space and the other is to 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.
“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.
NASA 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.
“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 Colorado studies are among 18 proposals selected by NASA. The total funding to be awarded for the selected six-month studies is approximately $4.9 million.
The four Colorado companies that will conduct studies are:
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.
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.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Denver, Colorado: 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.