[meteorite-list] NASA Announces Latest Progress, Upcoming Milestones in Hunt for Asteroids

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 19 Jun 2014 14:35:19 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201406192135.s5JLZJcv020504_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

June 19, 2014
NASA Announces Latest Progress, Upcoming Milestones in Hunt for Asteroids

NASA is on the hunt for an asteroid to capture with a robotic spacecraft,
redirect to a stable orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to study in
the 2020s -- all on the agency's human Path to Mars. Agency officials
announced on Thursday recent progress to identify candidate asteroids for its
Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), increase public participation in the search
for asteroids, and advance the mission's design.

NASA plans to launch the ARM robotic spacecraft in 2019 and will make a final
choice of the asteroid for the mission about a year before the spacecraft
launches. NASA is working on two concepts for the mission: the first is to
fully capture a very small asteroid in open space, and the second is to
collect a boulder-sized sample off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts
would require redirecting an asteroid less than 32 feet (10 meters) in size
into the moon's orbit. The agency will choose between these two concepts in
late 2014 and further refine the mission's design.

The agency will award a total of $4.9 million for concept studies addressing
components of ARM. Proposals for the concept studies were solicited through a
Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) released in March, and selected in
collaboration with NASA's Space Technology and Human Exploration and
Operations Mission Directorates. The studies will be completed over a
six-month period beginning in July, during which time system concepts and key
technologies needed for ARM will be refined and matured. The studies also
will include an assessment of the feasibility of potential commercial
partners to support the robotic mission.

"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," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA's
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

For more information about the BAA and award recipients, visit:


NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope made recent observations of an asteroid,
designated 2011 MD, which bears the characteristics of a good candidate for
the full capture concept. While NASA will continue to look for other
candidate asteroids during the next few years as the mission develops,
astronomers are making progress to find suitable candidate asteroids for
humanity's next destination into the solar system.

"Observing these elusive remnants that may date from the formation of our
solar system as they come close to Earth, is expanding our understanding of
our world and the space it resides in," said John Grunsfeld, associate
administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Closer study of these
objects challenge our capabilities for future exploration and will help us
test ways to protect our planet from impact. The Spitzer observatory is one
of our tools to identify and characterize potential candidate targets for the
asteroid mission."

Analysis of Spitzer's infrared data show 2011 MD is roughly 20 feet (6
meters) in size and has a remarkably low density -- about the same as water,
which supports the analysis of observations taken in 2011.

The asteroid appears to have a structure perhaps resembling a pile of rocks,
or a "rubble pile." Since solid rock is about three times as dense as water,
this suggests about two-thirds of the asteroid must be empty space. The
research team behind the observation says the asteroid could be a collection
of small rocks, held loosely together by gravity, or it may be one solid rock
with a surrounding halo of small particles. In both cases, the asteroid mass
could be captured by the ARM capture mechanism and redirected into lunar

The findings based on the Spitzer observation were published Thursday in the
Astrophysical Journal Letters. For more information, visit:


To date, nine asteroids have been identified as potential candidates for the
mission, having favorable orbits and measuring the right size for the ARM
full capture option. With these Spitzer findings on 2011 MD, sizes now have
been established for three of the nine candidates. Another asteroid -- 2008
HU4 -- will pass close enough to Earth in 2016 for interplanetary radar to
determine some of its characteristics, such as size, shape and rotation. The
other five will not get close enough to be observed again before the final
mission selection, but NASA's Near-Earth Objects (NEO) Program is finding
several potential candidate asteroids per year. One or two of these get close
enough to Earth each year to be well characterized.

Boulders have been directly imaged on all larger asteroids visited by
spacecraft so far, making retrieval of a large boulder a viable concept for
ARM. During the next few years, NASA expects to add several candidates for
this option, including asteroid Bennu, which will be imaged up close by the
agency's Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource
Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission in 2018.

NASA's search for candidate asteroids for ARM is a component of the
agency's existing efforts to identify all NEOs that could pose a threat to
the Earth. Some of these NEOs could become candidates for ARM because they
are in orbits similar to Earth's. More than 11,140 NEOs have been
discovered as of June 9. Approximately 1,483 of those have been classified as
potentially hazardous.

In June 2013, NASA announced an Asteroid Grand Challenge (AGC) to accelerate
this observation work through non-traditional collaborations and
partnerships. On the first anniversary of the grand challenge this week, NASA
officials announced new ways the public can contribute to the AGC, building
on the successes of the challenge to date. To that end, NASA will host a
two-day virtual workshop -- dates to be determined -- on emerging
opportunities through the grand challenge, in which the public can

"There are great ways for the public to help with our work to identify
potentially hazardous asteroids," said Jason Kessler, program executive for
NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge. "By tapping into the innovative spirit of
people around the world, new public-private partnerships can help make Earth
a safer place, and perhaps even provide valuable information about the
asteroid that astronauts will visit."

For more information about the workshop and public opportunities through the
grand challenge, visit:


The Asteroid Grand Challenge and Asteroid Redirect Mission comprise NASA's
Asteroid Initiative. Capabilities advanced and tested through the Asteroid
Initiative will help astronauts reach Mars in the 2030s. For more information
about the Asteroid Initiative and NASA's human Path to Mars, visit:



Trent J. Perrotto
Headquarters, Washington
trent.j.perrotto at nasa.gov
Received on Thu 19 Jun 2014 05:35:19 PM PDT

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