NASA Takes A Leap Towards Asteroid Mining In Space: A Highly Ambitious Venture Under NASA's Discovery Program
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NASA has started working towards its future missions of asteroid mining in space. Two asteroids missions were integrated into NASA's Discovery Program and were given the green signal to proceed. The announcement made by NASA on Jan. 4, 2017 stated that the Lucy and Psyche asteroid missions are a "go."
Each mission has an estimated budget of $450 million and is expected to launch in the early 2020s. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science, NASA, held a teleconference and announced that "These small body missions complement NASA's exploration and are crucial parts of learning about our solar system and crucial parts of our programs going forward."
SpaceNews reported that Lucy is the asteroid mission of NASA's Discovery Program, which will be led by Harold Levison at Southwest Research Institute, and is expected to launch in 2021. Lucy will be visiting the main belt asteroid by 2025 before heading towards its destination, which is the Trojan group of asteroids. These Trojan asteroids are in the same orbit as Jupiter. It is expected that Lucy will study the Trojan group that contains six asteroids, from 2027 to 2033.
Lucy will study the formation of solar system and different prospects of asteroid mining in space, according to NASA. Levison said, "One of the really surprising aspects about this population is its diversity." Then, he added, "We believe that's telling us something about how the solar system formed and evolved. These small bodies really are the fossils of planet formation."
In the meantime, Lindy Elkins-Tanton at Arizona State University will lead the Psyche, the second asteroid mission approved under NASA's Discovery Program for launch in 2023. The spacecraft will make a tour over Earth and Mars before heading to the main belt asteroid. It will touch down an asteroid-like object, which is suspected as the remnant of a dead planet and a highly probable prospect of asteroid mining in space project, Business Insider reported.
Elkins-Tanton said, "We have never seen a metal world. By visiting Psyche, we can literally visit a planetary core, the only way that humankind ever can."
These missions are a crucial part of NASA's Discovery Program and are considered as the initial step of the long-term mission of asteroid mining in space.