NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)
NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)
NASA is developing a first-ever robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. Once it’s there, astronauts will explore it and return with samples in the 2020s.
This Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is part of NASA’s plan to advance the new technologies and spaceflight experience needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s.
Since the announcement of the Asteroid Initiative in 2013, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program has catalogued more than 1,000 new near-Earth asteroids discovered by various search teams. Of those identified so far, four could be good candidates for ARM.
NASA plans to launch the ARM robotic spacecraft at the end of this decade. The spacecraft will capture a boulder off of a large asteroid using a robotic arm.
After an asteroid mass is collected, the spacecraft will redirect it to a stable orbit around the moon called a “Distant Retrograde Orbit.” Astronauts aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft, launched from a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, will explore the asteroid in the mid-2020s.
NASA is developing the world’s first space shotgun that can blast asteroids into small pieces for collection as samples when a robotic spacecraft reaches near one such space rock in the near future.
The ARM aims to chop off a massive chunk of an asteroid and shift it into the Moon’s orbit. Then, a manned spacecraft will collect samples and send these back to the Earth for further examination.
- Purpose of mission
- Purpose of the ARM is to test new technologies and techniques that would be needed for later manned deep space missions while learning more about asteroids and how to defend the Earth against them.
- The Asteroid Redirect Mission will provide an initial demonstration of several spaceflight capabilities need to send astronauts deeper into space, and eventually, to Mars.
What are asteroids?
- Asteroids are small, airless rocky worlds revolving around the sun that are too small to be called planets. They are also known as planetoids or minor planets.
- Most asteroids lie in a vast ring between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This main asteroid belt holds more than 200 asteroids larger than 60 miles (100 kilometers) in diameter.
- Many asteroids lie outside the main belt. For instance, a number of asteroids called Trojans lie along Jupiter’s orbital path. Three groups — Atens, Amors, and Apollos — known as near-Earth asteroids orbit in the inner solar system and sometimes cross the path of Mars and Earth.
- An asteroid capable of global disaster would have to be more than a quarter-mile wide. Researchers have estimated that such an impact would raise enough dust into the atmosphere to effectively create a “nuclear winter,” severely disrupting agriculture around the world.
Why asteroids are being studied?
- Origins of our solar system
The materials in asteroids represent the building blocks of the planets. Because of the position of the asteroid belt that lies between the rocky inner planets and the gas giants of the outer solar system, the materials found there may hold clues as to why the planets are so diverse today.
- Understanding more about life
Scientists do not fully understand how the first life forms arose on Earth from non-living organic matter, and asteroids may help us learn more about this puzzle.
Asteroids have a more primitive chemical composition than Earth has. They are more similar to the conditions that existed in the solar system’s younger years. By studying them, we may learn about how life arose on our own planet.
Asteroids offer a source of volatiles and an extraordinarily rich supply of minerals that can be exploited for the exploration and colonization of our solar system in the twenty-first century.
By closely investigating the compositions of asteroids, intelligent choices can be made as to which ones offer the richest supplies of raw materials. It has been estimated that the mineral wealth resident in the belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter would be equivalent to about 100 billion dollars for every person on Earth today.
- They may someday threaten to collide with Earth
Because some asteroids orbit around the sun in paths shaped like elongated ovals, they cross Earth’s orbit every so often. And sometimes, they come very close to Earth itself. For example, in January, asteroid 2010 AL30 passed within about 80,000 miles (130,000 km) of Earth.