Report Confirms Scientific Benefits of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission

Artists concept of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission capturing an asteroid boulder before redirecting it to an astronaut-accessible orbit around Earth's moon. (Credit: NASA)
Artists concept of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission capturing an asteroid boulder before redirecting it to an astronaut-accessible orbit around Earth’s moon. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A new report provides expert findings from a special action team on how elements of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) can address decadal science objectives and help close Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs) for future human missions in deep space.

Read the report online: ARM Connections to the Priority Small Body Science and Exploration Goals.

The findings reflect a two-month study in which members of the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) compared the ARM requirements for the robotic and crew segments to internationally developed SKGs as well as science objectives identified in the National Research Council decadal survey report, “Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022.”

The SBAG report explains ARM’s potential contribution to closing 18 small body SKGs and addressing 15 questions that support specific objectives in the science decadal survey report. Some of the contributions are contingent upon additional instruments or payloads on the robotic segment of ARM or additional crew time than is currently baselined for the crew segment of ARM. Michele Gates, Program Director for ARM, and the NASA official who requested the study, notes that the report is essential in informing priorities for the mission.

“This report is an important step in identifying ways that ARM will be more scientifically relevant as we continue mission formulation for the robotic and the crew segments,” said Gates. “We’re currently in the process of selecting hosted instruments and payloads for the robotic segment, and hope to receive an updated analysis from the SBAG after we announce those selections in spring 2017.”

NASA solicited partner-provided payloads in September 2016, seeking onboard instruments or small secondary payloads that are deployed from the ARM robotic spacecraft. The ARM team specifically seeks instruments and payloads that could meet partner goals as well as ARM objectives, particularly those that could further characterize the asteroid and surrounding environment, including potential resources, or assist with boulder selection through imaging or capture operations support.

NASA established the SBAG in March 2008 to identify scientific priorities and opportunities for the exploration of asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, small satellites, and Trans-Neptunian Objects. The SBAG also provides scientific input on the role of asteroids or comets in human space exploration activities. The SBAG provides findings to NASA Headquarters, but does not issue recommendations.

Editor’s Note: My guess is this mission disappears in January once the Trump Administration takes over. Congress has never supported it or really funded the program. The only reason it still exists is the Obama Administration.

I’m betting the new administration probably redirects NASA toward lunar activities, with plans for Mars being pushed into the future. The SLS and Orion work that NASA has been doing can be easily focused on that destination. The challenge will be to develop landing systems and lunar habitats.