NASA’s Asteroid Mission Showcases New Technology

NASA is making big headlines today with a new proposed mission called the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). In layman’s terms, the mission consists of sending an autonomous robotic arm type spacecraft to a wayward asteroid, removing a large chunk of it, and then extracting the piece back towards orbit around the moon, essentially giving the moon it’s own mini moon. At this point, fast forward five years later, where a future manned Orion mission would go to examine the rock.

The mission will cost around $1.25 billion not including launch costs and is set for liftoff in December 2020. This mission is actually the result of a scaled down version of a plan proposed by President Obama back in 2010.

The original plan was to retrieve an entire smaller asteroid and put it in orbit around the moon, but after extensive research NASA opted to focus on a larger asteroid, one that was big enough to have boulders surrounding it (6.5 – 13 ft). These boulders will be the targets of the asteroid mission.

Though the mission will cost $100 million dollars more, it received the go-ahead due to some much larger potential benefits. The mission will be one of the first major manned missions that will go beyond Earth’s orbit and will be a telltale test for the Orion Spacecraft, new technology that will be used in future missions to send astronauts to Mars. The mission also showcases potential emergency capabilities, should there be a need for a mission to protect the Earth from impending disaster if an asteroid ever approached on a collision course.


One of the new technologies that will make its debut is the Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system that will be pioneered on the ARM mission. This technology uses solar energy and converts it into electrical power using solar arrays and then uses the energy to propel the spacecraft. The technology is less efficient than burning fuel, but if successful, future missions will need less fuel and fewer launches, downsizing sizable costs.

Other technologies that will be employed are the new Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful rocket that NASA has built to date, as well as the new Orion Deep Space spacesuits that the chosen team of two will be wearing for the mission to the asteroid.

So far, NASA has narrowed the choice of asteroid down to three candidates, but said it will not make a decision until 2019, followed by launching the spacecraft with the robot a year later. There will be more delays, as the mission will take around 6 years to maneuver the asteroid into orbit around the moon.