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NASA Awards Funding to Further Asteroid Initiative

First Posted: Jun 20, 2014 12:45 PM EDT

NASA's Asteroid Initiative is another space project aimed to help expedite the upcoming Mars missions in the 2030s. The space agency awarded nearly $5 million for concept studies that focus on its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).

The two concepts for the ARM mission include fully capturing a very small asteroid in open space and collecting a boulder-size sample off of a much larger asteroid. Both will require redirecting an asteroid less than ten meters in size into the moon's orbit. However, NASA will choose one of the concepts as the mission's main objective later this year and build off of it to prepare for launch in 2019.

The concept studies that NASA awarded on Thursday were solicited through a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) released in March and then selected in collaboration with NASA's Space Technology and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorates. Starting in July, these concepts will be worked on for six months while the ARM mission's system concepts and technologies are fully developed.

NASA scientists plan to capture a small asteroid with a robotic spacecraft, redirect it to a stable orbit around the moon, and then send astronauts to study the asteroid some time in the 2020s. They have not yet chosen an asteroid yet, but they are building a list of potential candidates.

"Observing these elusive remnants that may date from the formation of our solar system as they come close to Earth, is expanding our understanding of our world and the space it resides in," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in this NASA news release. "Closer study of these objects challenge our capabilities for future exploration and will help us test ways to protect our planet from impact. The Spitzer observatory is one of our tools to identify and characterize potential candidate targets for the asteroid mission."

The space agency's Spitzer Space Telescope is making observations of nearby asteroids. Nine asteroids have been identified as potential candidates, including Asteroid 2011 MD, which is six meters in size and has a very low density. Another is Asteroid 2008 HU4 because it will be so close to Earth by 2016 that the Spitzer Telescope can effective determine its size, shape, and rotation.

But for now, as they decide on an asteroid, the concepts and technology will continue to be developed throughout the rest of 2014. You can read more about the ARM mission on the NASA website

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