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NASA Awards Contracts for Early ARM Robotic Spacecraft

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
January 28, 2016
Filed under , , , , , ,
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)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., has selected four companies to conduct design studies for a solar-electric-propulsion-based spacecraft for the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM). The aerospace companies selected for the initial studies include: Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Littleton, Colorado; Boeing Phantom Works, Huntington Beach, California; Orbital ATK, Dulles, Virginia; and Space Systems/Loral, Palo Alto, California.

ARRM is part of NASA’s plan for using cislunar space, the region between Earth and moon’s orbit, as a proving ground for future human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit, in support of the agency’s journey to Mars.

The acquisition strategy for the ARRM spacecraft will leverage commercially available U.S. industry capabilities to reduce costs and cost risk. The strategy includes procurement of the ARRM spacecraft bus through two-phases. The first phase is design work accomplished through studies by U.S. industry working in cooperation with the mission’s project office at JPL to support mission formulation. The second phase, to be awarded via a second competition, will include development and implementation of the flight spacecraft bus by one of the study participants.

ARRM is being planned to perform a number of demonstrations including the use of a 20-fold improvement in deep space solar-electric propulsion (SEP) to move and maneuver large payloads; retrieve a boulder up to 20 tons in mass from an asteroid and redirect it to a crew-accessible orbit around the moon; and be a part of integrated crewed and robotic vehicle operations in deep space.

9 responses to “NASA Awards Contracts for Early ARM Robotic Spacecraft”

  1. windbourne says:

    That’s interesting. Getting a 20 ton rock from an asteroid will not be easy. But once done, that robot will have capability to bring asteroids to the moon for mining. If companies can find asteroids with elements like platinum, rhodium, californium 252, etc, along with some of the blood minerals, this would be a major use.

    • Kapitalist says:

      It would just find the same things which is on other asteroids, now known as meteorites stored in many museums. And they are more pristine than any boulder is. How do boulders form on meteoroids? On the Moon about a millimeter per million year is eroded because of micrometeorites. Any boulder on any asteroid seems to lack science value. 20 ton is nothing in microgravity and elements heavier than Uranium would be amazing to find, but more likely so with telescopes. And it is in no way expected on any asteroid.

      Even the asteroid science community is largely against this mission. They generally rather want a survey of many asteroids, instead of a manned mission to one of them. The ARM leaders themselves say that “this is not a science mission”. I think that the same technology demonstration budget could be better spent on moving actually useful payload in Lunar or Mars space.

      Astronauts risking their lives to examine a meteoroid they have in the museum across the street at home, is worse than silly. It is careless and could kill someone for no good reason.

      • windbourne says:

        First off, it is NOT a pure science mission. It is about building blocks and using them for multiple purposes.
        Secondly, how does bringing a single solid rock and exploring it, put anybody’s life more in jeopardy than anything else that we would do on the moon, or in a space station around the moon?
        It does not.
        IOW, there is NOTHING careless about this just for doing it.

        This not only helps get an industry started, but it may actually help us for 3 situations:
        1) any major asteroid that could hit us. The ability to move an asteroid heading for us would be very useful.
        2) giving us experience in space while preparing us for deep space.
        3) building up a space mining companies that can bring in extremely rare elements that are currently controlled by dangerous govs, can help prevent war. It also means that other nations can NOT blackmail the west like china did recent with rare earth.

        These are all good reasons for doing this.

        • Kapitalist says:

          Luckily, it is evident that ARM won’t happen, and not too much resources have been wasted on it. But anyway, here are my arguments against yours:

          1) Millions of asteroids could hit us. They need to be surveyed and are successfully so already. The ARM-sized asteroids routinely burn up as meteors in our atmosphere. They are no threat, they are a nightly light show at best. Especially their boulders won’t fall off and hit your tin foil hat.

          2) You could get more experience by dancing naked in the forest. But if we send a spacecraft to move something rather massive, then why not move some useful mass instead of just another meteorite (which will not be visited by astronauts, as you say). What about demonstrating the technology by instead moving fuel to Lunar or Mars orbit? That would demonstrate a useful application.

          3) Rare valuable elements? Well then NASA need not move a finger because every greedy capitalist will do what is profitable. The ARM mission hogus bogus mentions nothing about either science nor profit nor security. And there’s no way to imagine how it could. even if the instigators had wanted to. As for a James Bond crook asteroid diversion extortion plan, well that’s for Hollywood. It took Rosetta 10 years to fly to the most available comet. The landing didn’t go as planned and it can’t even move itself to anywhere else. That’s today’s reality and today’s space missions should be adapted to reality.

          • therealdmt says:

            This so far unfounded ARM project wouldn’t seem to have the best prospects after the administration that promoted it inevitably leaves office in the not too distant future. And I’m against the entire SLS/Orion program in general.

            However, if congress funds SLS anyway, there are currently no funded missions to do anything besides going to lunar orbit (and return). They have now started funding for a deep space habitat, so that could be part of something. Anyway, at least the ARM project, dissapointing and frustrating as it is (especially if it’s the only thing we do for like a decade), does accomplish some technology development and demonstrations:
            – High power SEP (which could have numerous future applications, including commercial)
            – a “gravity tractor” demonstration of changing an asteroid’s course. Going from theory to an actual demonstration would be a very big step if successful, and if not successful, would be a lesson learned (and better learned early rather than too late)
            – test out the whole supposed Orion exploration architecture (Deep Space Network for manned spaceflight, space suits, spacewalks [decompression of the entire vehicle!], sample collection, EDL from beyond the moon
            – the largest sample of an asteroid in it’s native environment (yes, we have meteoroids on Earth and theories as to where they come from, but there is no significant uncontaminated sample of one where we know for a fact exactly it’s background).
            – Pioneering of techniques that a commercial company could possibly then incorporate with some risk retired.

            Look, I’m not “for” ARM — I wish SLS and Orion were cancelled – yesterday! But if it’s going to go forward for a time anyway, and if a lunar lander isn’t going to be funded, grabbing the stupid boulder would be better than just going to lunar orbit again and again every two years until we run out of money/initiative.

            I say, if we don’t cancel SLS/Orion and don’t build a lunar lander, let’s just go ahead and do the crappy ARM mission. At least it’s something and there would be technology development , planetary protection, Beyond LEO operations and possibly scientific and plausibly commercial-enabling benefits from it.

            • P.K. Sink says:

              Well said on all points. It will be interesting to see what the next administration does with this boondoggle. Probably replace it with a new boondoggle.

            • Flatley says:

              Just as with Europa Clipper, the core objectives of ARM could be accomplished without SLS/Orion, with the obvious exception of the tacked-on HSF portion. If we place the “asteroid” in an accessible location it can stay there until a viable HSF solution exists. (Or until its orbit decays in 50,000 years: 50/50 odds on which will happen first.)

            • Kapitalist says:

              I think most of the arguments for ARRM (the robotic part), mainly the technology demonstration, get even better if applied to something else than an asteroid. I love SEP tows and think it is great than ARRM now contributes to developing them. But when launched I would suggest moving some useful mass instead of a boulder. Fuel to Mars’ orbit to facilitate a sample return mission, for example. It would be a very similar tech demo, just put to better real use.

  2. Andrew_M_Swallow says:

    It may be too late to put milestone on SLS development but I am sure that NASA’s lawyers can add milestones to the next set of ARRM contacts. CCtCap succeeded in attaching them to FAR Part 15 Contracts.

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