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Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study

By Keith Cowing
April 23, 2012
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Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study
Catching an Asteroid
RIch Sternbach/KISS/NASA

This report describes the results of a study sponsored by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) to investigate the feasibility of identifying, robotically capturing, and returning an entire Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) to the vicinity of the Earth by the middle of the next decade.
The KISS study was performed by people from Ames Research Center, Glenn Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Johnson Space Center, Langley Research Center, the California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard University, the Naval Postgraduate School, University of California at Los Angeles, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Southern California, Arkyd Astronautics, Inc., The Planetary Society, the B612 Foundation, and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

The feasibility of an asteroid retrieval mission hinges on finding an overlap between the smallest NEAs that could be reasonably discovered and characterized and the largest NEAs that could be captured and transported in a reasonable flight time. This overlap appears to be centered on NEAs roughly 7 m in diameter corresponding to masses in the range of 250,000 kg to 1,000,000 kg. To put this in perspective, the Apollo program returned 382 kg of Moon rocks in six missions and the OSIRIS-REx mission proposes to return at least 60 grams of surface material from a NEA by 2023. The present study indicates that it would be possible to return a ~500,000-kg NEA to high lunar orbit by around 2025.

The research described in this paper was sponsored by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) and was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The people and organizations listed on page 2 of this report participated in the KISS-sponsored study. It is their work that is summarized in this paper and the KISS study co-leads gratefully acknowledge their contributions. In addition, the Collaborative Modeling for Parametric Assessment of Space Systems (COMPASS) team at NASA GRC performed a study of the Asteroid Retrieval Mission concept resulting in a conceptual flight system configuration and mass estimate. Their work is also gratefully acknowledged by the study co-leads.

2 April 2012

Prepared for the: Keck Institute for Space Studies California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pasadena, California

Full report via National Space Society

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