Tags: nasa | mars | moon | asteroid

NASA Seeks Bids for $6M 'Asteroid Capture' Program

Saturday, 22 Mar 2014 11:07 PM

By Todd Beamon

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NASA said Saturday that it would offer $6 million to public entities or private companies to develop a plan for its program to capture a 500-ton asteroid to put into orbit around the Moon, where it could be used as a step toward a manned space mission to Mars.

The proposals for the "asteroid-capture scheme" must provide specifications in five areas and must seek to keep expenses to a minimum, the publication Science Recorder reports.

The program seeks to capture a suitable space rock and bring it into the Moon’s orbit, allowing astronauts to land on the asteroid for study and analysis, according to Science Recorder.

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The hope is to use the asteroid as a refueling space station for astronauts making their way to Mars.

President Barack Obama has directed NASA to have a manned mission to the asteroid by 2025 — and to Mars by 2030, Science Recorder reports.

"We’re in this sort of pre-formulation phase studying and gathering input, leading to a mission concept review that we’ll have in early 2015, where we’ll try and focus down to a specific concept and then go develop and implement,” Greg Williams, a NASA deputy associate administrator, said in a news release to Science Recorder.

An asteroid capture scheme would work this way: When the space rock passes between Earth and the moon, it would be captured by an "asteroid capture capsule" — a robotic spacecraft driven by electricity generated by the ship's solar panels.

When the spacecraft approaches the asteroid, the capsule would release a bag engulfing the moving asteroid. The bag then would cinch up with drawstrings, roping in the asteroid.

Then, the spacecraft would deploy its thrusters, towing the asteroid to a gravitationally neutral spot designated by NASA.

Astronauts would then travel to the asteroid, via NASA's Orion spacecraft under development, to collect samples to return to Earth for study.

A report on the project was developed in 2012 by NASA and the California Institute of Technology.

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