Robots to Mine Near-Earth Asteroids
New Cal-tech study reports on methods and timetable
By Robotics Trends' News Sources - Filed Apr 23, 2012

Pasadena, CA—New report describes the results of a study sponsored by the Keck Institute for SpaceStudies (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 indiameter 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 proposesto return at least 60 grams of surface material from a NEA by 2023. The present study indicates that itwould be possible to return a ~500,000-kg NEA to high lunar orbit by around 2025.

Report prepared by: Keck Institute for Space Studies, California Institute of Technology, Jet PropulsionLaboratory

See report: Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study

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