NASA wants to lasso an asteroid

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid - 3D rendering by by Arlene Dacao

Potentially Hazardous Asteroid – 3D rendering by by Arlene Dacao

PASADENA (JPL) – NASA is on the hunt for an asteroid to capture with a robotic spacecraft, redirect to a stable orbit around the moon, and send astronauts to study in the 2020s — all on the agency’s human Path to Mars. Agency officials announced on Thursday, June 19, recent progress to identify candidate asteroids for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), increase public participation in the search for asteroids, and advance the mission’s design.

NASA plans to launch the ARM robotic spacecraft in 2019 and will make a final choice of the asteroid for the mission about a year before the spacecraft launches. NASA is working on two concepts for the mission: The first is to fully capture a very small asteroid in open space, and the second is to collect a boulder-sized sample off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would require redirecting an asteroid less than 32 feet (10 meters) in size into the moon’s orbit. The agency will choose between these two concepts in late 2014 and further refine the mission’s design.

The agency will award a total of $4.9 million for concept studies addressing components of ARM. Proposals for the concept studies were solicited through a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) released in March, and selected in collaboration with NASA’s Space Technology and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorates. The studies will be completed over a six-month period beginning in July, during which time system concepts and key technologies needed for ARM will be refined and matured. The studies also will include an assessment of the feasibility of potential commercial partners to support the robotic mission.

“With these system concept studies, we are taking the next steps to develop capabilities needed to send humans deeper into space than ever before, and ultimately to Mars, while testing new techniques to protect Earth from asteroids,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

For more information about the BAA and award recipients, visit:

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope made recent observations of an asteroid designated 2011 MD, which bears the characteristics of a good candidate for the full capture concept. While NASA will continue to look for other candidate asteroids during the next few years as the mission develops, astronomers are making progress to find suitable candidate asteroids for humanity’s next destination into the solar system.

“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. “Closer study of these objects challenges 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.”

Analysis of Spitzer’s infrared data shows 2011 MD is roughly 20 feet (6 meters) in size and has a remarkably low density — about the same as water, which supports the analysis of observations taken in 2011.

The asteroid appears to have a structure perhaps resembling a pile of rocks, or a “rubble pile.” Since solid rock is about three times as dense as water, this suggests about two-thirds of the asteroid must be empty space. The research team behind the observation says the asteroid could be a collection of small rocks, held loosely together by gravity, or it may be one solid rock with a surrounding halo of small particles. In both cases, the asteroid mass could be captured by the ARM capture mechanism and redirected into lunar orbit.

The findings based on the Spitzer observation were published Thursday in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. For more information, visit:

To date, nine asteroids have been identified as potential candidates for the mission, having favorable orbits and measuring the right size for the ARM full capture option. With these Spitzer findings on 2011 MD, sizes now have been established for three of the nine candidates. Another asteroid — 2008 HU4 — will pass close enough to Earth in 2016 for interplanetary radar to determine some of its characteristics, such as size, shape and rotation. The other five will not get close enough to be observed again before the final mission selection, but NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program is finding several potential candidate asteroids per year. One or two of these get close enough to Earth each year to be well characterized.

Boulders have been directly imaged on all larger asteroids visited by spacecraft so far, making retrieval of a large boulder a viable concept for ARM. During the next few years, NASA expects to add several candidates for this option, including asteroid Bennu, which will be imaged up close by the agency’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission in 2018.

NASA’s search for candidate asteroids for ARM is a component of the agency’s existing efforts to identify all NEOs that could pose a threat to the Earth. Some of these NEOs could become candidates for ARM because they are in orbits similar to Earth’s. More than 11,140 NEOs have been discovered as of June 9. Approximately 1,483 of those have been classified as potentially hazardous.

In June 2013, NASA announced an Asteroid Grand Challenge (AGC) to accelerate this observation work through non-traditional collaborations and partnerships. On the first anniversary of the grand challenge this week, NASA officials announced new ways the public can contribute to the Asteroid Grand Challenge, building on the successes of the challenge to date. To that end, NASA will host a two-day virtual workshop — dates to be determined — on emerging opportunities through the grand challenge, in which the public can participate.

“There are great ways for the public to help with our work to identify potentially hazardous asteroids,” said Jason Kessler, program executive for NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge. “By tapping into the innovative spirit of people around the world, new public-private partnerships can help make Earth a safer place, and perhaps even provide valuable information about the asteroid that astronauts will visit.”

For more information about the workshop and public opportunities through the grand challenge, visit:

The Asteroid Grand Challenge and Asteroid Redirect Mission comprise NASA’s Asteroid Initiative. Capabilities advanced and tested through the Asteroid Initiative will help astronauts reach Mars in the 2030s. For more information about the Asteroid Initiative and NASA’s human Path to Mars, visit:

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82 Responses to NASA wants to lasso an asteroid

  1. Shawn from High River says:

    I love this kinda stuff.
    This is the sort of thing science should be focused on. expanding our knowledge of the universe and helping to make our planet a better place. Science has been hijacked by money,politics and ideology.

  2. Ben D says:

    Near Earth orbit Asteroid exploitation planning shows up as early as 1989 with the highly optimistic Integrated Space Plan from Rockwell….

  3. James the Elder says:

    Fail to see the need, other than job justification. We should have been on Mars in the 80s.

  4. Green Sand says:

    Just give Major Kong a lariat and he will steer it home!

  5. RoHa says:

    Yeeeee haaaaa?

  6. tomcourt says:

    What I truly hate about this asteroid redirect mission is it being driven by NASA being so risk adverse they are unwilling to send humans past near Earth space.

    So rather than go to a near Earth asteroid on a six-month mission, they want to bring the astroid into lunar orbit so humans can visit there. More of a protected playground then bold exploration.

  7. Latitude says: what could go wrong

  8. Bill Illis says:

    Well, hopefully they don’t screw this one up like they screwed up their foray into pro-AGW climate science.

  9. David Ball says:

    Latitude says:
    June 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    There are going to be mistakes. But we have to make those mistake. We always have made mistakes and yet we advance.

  10. Latitude says:

    David, letting a three year old drive a car is not a mistake……….

  11. cnxtim says:

    I am sure there are far more worthwhile projects required on the USA’s patch of Earth. By all means gaze and ponder but stop with the wildly expensive manned and unmanned missions.

    With the Us economy a true basket case, this is just sheer folly.

  12. Dire Wolf says:

    So, we are going to take a pile of rocks/gravel and latch onto it — retaining the low-gravity cohesion while changing the directional velocity of the whole (by changing the directional velocity of each piece of rock/gravel, I would suppose) — and drag/push the whole mass into an orbit around a large gravitational mass (the moon) which will be apt to tear it apart before any studying can happen.

    What am I missing here?

  13. Ed Barbar says:

    What’s the point of a manned mission to mars? I would like to understand what a person can do better than these robots. The cost is astronomical.

    Heresy, maybe, but I simply don’t get it. I also don’t get NASA’s continued pushing “We are looking for life” meme. They know there is no chance of life on Mars. The idea that colonization of Mars or any other planet makes any sense is silly. You want to waste $, put it into SETI. At least it’s cheaper, and has other information you can get from the big radio telescopes.

    Bottom line, we are stuck here on earth. Without violating Einstein’s principles, people will never zip around in Star Trek spaceships to colonize other stars. It’s possible to send a small machine to other stars, probably in the next 10K years or so, that could make planets habitable, or even to then communicate DNA to those planets and create life, but who knows what life will look like 10K years from now. DNA, RNA, the mysteries of life will be unlocked, and we will be monkeys among men.

  14. JoeH says:

    Just a thought: When you have robotic control of an asteroid – you not only have a new asteroid to study – you also have yourself a new “weapon of mass destruction” to play with!

  15. Sean says:

    What happened to Muslim outreach and climate soothsaying?

    Will they have enough money left for their primary missions under Obama?

  16. David, a mistake that expands knowledge and advances technology can be an acceptable risk. But we’re talking about the space exploration agency that, 40 years after Apollo,– 40 years of advancements — is no longer capable of putting a man into Low Earth Orbit. For that matter, after 53 years they can’t even launch a man into space in a suborbital flight. (And before anyone asks sarcastically, yes, I do have other constructive suggestions.)

  17. Aphan says:

    What could POSSIBLY go wrong? LOL

  18. Keith Minto says:

    What could go wrong ?

    NASA is on the hunt for an asteroid to capture with a robotic spacecraft, redirect to a stable orbit around the moon

    Well, they could try orbiting the Earth, this way they discover the meaning of stability.

  19. Pat Frank says:

    Siliceous pumices can have densities quite a bit less than 1 gm/cc — the density of water. So, asteroid 2011 MD need not be a rubble pile to have a low density. It just needs to have contained dissolved gas when molten, and then to have suffered a rapid decompression. It could well be a rubble pile, of course, but need not.

  20. inMAGICn says:

    Eb Barbar

    “….monkeys among men…?”

    For shame, you racist sexist.

  21. inMAGICn says:

    Sorry Ed (said Eb)

  22. Graham says:

    By my rough calculations a 6 metre diameter asteroid would weight about 100 tonnes if average density is water. So assuming made up of say 10,000 10kg rocks the outer rocks would experience only 10micro newtons of gravitational force. Good luck capturing this asteroid in a net without disturbing it. Surprised that gravitational tidal forces haven’t ripped this apart already. Got to think there are some other forces involved. Maybe magnetic?

  23. dmacleo says:

    don’t we need a way for nasa to transport people first??

  24. Randall_G says:

    What? Are there no rights for asteroids? Capturing and forcing an asteroid into a slave orbit of Earth is so oppressive! /sarc

  25. u.k.(us) says:

    Seeing as science is settled, at this point what does it matter.
    Seriously though, they were asking for it.

  26. ldd says:

    Well after they master this can they then work on earth? I’d like to be a less cold in winters (and summers for that matter) at my local.

  27. Adam says:

    They are struggling to even get a person to travel to the moon and back even without getting out for a walk! And now they want to waste money pretending that by 2029 they can “lasso” an asteroid, put it into a stable Moon orbit and send men up there to walk around on it. Talk about running before you can walk.

  28. John Slayton says:

    Perhaps they should review their precautionary principle. A lot of things can go wrong. Guidance system failure, propulsion failure. Failure to distinguish metric and traditional measurement systems (again). Proposing to move a heavy object with potential nuclear scale impact in the general direction of earth is inherently risky, and Murphy was an optimist. I used to chat with an elderly crossing guard at the local school. An old guard Italian immigrant, he once had to lecture his boy about staying clear of street fights, something like this: “You thinka you big and you thinka you gonna win, but you betta thinka what you gonna do iffa you lose!”

    Those asteroids are sleeping dogs. Better let them lie.

  29. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    Dire Wolf on June 21, 2014 at 6:06 pm:

    So, we are going to take a pile of rocks/gravel and latch onto it — retaining the low-gravity cohesion while changing the directional velocity of the whole (by changing the directional velocity of each piece of rock/gravel, I would suppose) — and drag/push the whole mass into an orbit around a large gravitational mass (the moon) which will be apt to tear it apart before any studying can happen.

    What am I missing here?

    We’re in the era of government for sale or rent, if not yet officially. NASA will be open to taking on commercial sponsors for more funds and/or materials in exchange for advertising and product placement.

    The method employed to move the asteroid will be very apparent by the visible logo on the photos and TV coverage: Ziploc®.

  30. KR says:

    For general amusement, there’s the Kerbal Space Program, a simulation game where you build and launch your own rockets, running your own space program flying little green ‘Kerbals’ – the most recent version now includes an asteroid capture mission developed from the NASA proposals. Rendezvous with an asteroid, grab it, and drive it into an orbit around the moon.

    It’s quite challenging.

  31. asybot says:

    As I read this I am thinking of the effort a few guys are making to retrieve an old ( a 40 year old one to boot) satellite from a previous mission having to rewrite computer programs 4 decades old. My hats of to all the guys keeping the dream alive . NASA should have never been a political football in the first place ( OK fine I guess I am an ideologist)

  32. Lance of BC says:

    NASA spend all the money on the space shuttle missions to anticipate a building of a space stations but not beyond that. WTF???
    These shuttles should of been used to transport material and supplies to build a moon base, shoot up unmanned rockets/capsules with the shit you need and then transfer it to the awaiting NASA shuttles. No taking off and landing, just transport.

    OLD REALITY,, (before post modern/normal sciences…)we needed to get the moon and colonize, drill for geological, carbon dating, seismology and paleontology of strata formations of the moon and help understanding our planet/solar system. Wouldn’t that be cool? ;-)

    POST MODERN REALITY.. Alrighty now…Lassoing an asteroid and then putting it in orbit around the moon…and then send people to study it …like at a moon base.


    Holy freaking croutons , yea..go to mars!!!!


  33. bushbunny says:

    Hope they know their physics well, and gravity doesn’t pull the asteroid towards earth?

  34. bushbunny says:

    Or it does not disrupt our tides. What a great mistake.

  35. Harsh Humour – ON: So, NASA buys into Agenda 21; says it is sending large asteroid to moon orbit, “miscalculates” and reduces earth population to 800 million survivors, and a pastoral living standard. “Mission Accomplished” banner erected. Harsh Humour – OFF.

  36. Patrick says:

    This is insane. money better spent on making life on earth better for all. Oh wait!

  37. Larry Butler says:

    I’m sure most of you have seen the rover’s “Earth from Mars” photo, you know, the one where the ONLY objects in the Martian sky is Earth and a faint Moon. Few get to see the REAL picture rover took, this one:
    Before NASA’s cartoon section turned the photo into a lie, rover’s not-unprotected video camera takes quite a different photo in the INTENSE RADIATION of Mars, both direct radiation from the cosmic rays showering the planet and the secondary radiation caused by these very high energy rays causing nuclear emissions from the top 2-3 meters of the Martian soil, unprotected by Earth’s strong magnetic field and Van Allen Radiation Belts whcih protect us and allow life on Earth to live brief lives that require constant breeding to replenish Earth’s lower radiation death rates. What you see is the primary and secondary radiation attacking the CCD imager in the rover’s video camera during the almost instantaneous period of taking the picture. If these hits are stored for a few minutes, the picture would soon be white from the hits. You see the same effect putting a solid state camera inside the Fukushima melted down reactor buildings:

    Man cannot survive a few minutes in such radiation, no matter how much money NASA can waste on it.

  38. Eugene WR Gallun says:

    Pecos Bill will do it on the cheap. Maybe even for free just to prove he can.

    Eugene WR Gallun

  39. 4TimesAYear says:

    Orbit around the moon? Is the moon’s gravitational force strong enough for that? I think they’re off their rockets…er – rockers.

  40. James Bull says:

    I think it was Isaac Asimov who wrote a story of the colonists of the moon going and getting themselves a lump of ice from the rings of Saturn as the home planet were trying to bully them by withholding water supplies (used for propulsion as well as drinking and hydroponics)

    James Bull

  41. johnmarshall says:

    So they cock up the lunar approach and this asteroid crashes into Earth. What then???

  42. Mike Borgelt says:

    James Bull,

    It was “The Martian Way” IIRC. They were from Mars not the Moon.

    As for NASA, I’m not a US citizen or voter but isn’t it about time this welfare program was ended? Re-institute NACA for aeronautics research, hand the Earth sciences to NOAA and the US Geological Survey, general space science to the normal science research funding bodies and let Musk, Bigelow, Bezos and the folks at Xcor do their thing. They will do it better, faster and cheaper than a government department will, I’m sure.

  43. Steve from Rockwood says:

    Six meters in diameter? That’s a hemorrhoid not an asteroid.

  44. Ric Werme says:

    bushbunny says:
    June 21, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    > Or it does not disrupt our tides. What a great mistake.

    It will be a long, long time before NASA can move something that will have a measurable gravitational effect on tides….

    They do understand physics, though they occasionally get the units wrong.

  45. gbaikie says:

    Some people are worried about impact threat of rock 10 meters or less in diameter.
    “NASA is working on two concepts for the mission: The first is to fully capture a very small asteroid in open space, and the second is to collect a boulder-sized sample off of a much larger asteroid. Both concepts would require redirecting an asteroid less than 32 feet (10 meters) in size into the moon’s orbit. The agency will choose between these two concepts in late 2014 and further refine the mission’s design.”

    So let’s look at rock the impacted over Russia:
    “The Chelyabinsk meteor was a near-Earth asteroid that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia on 15 February 2013 at about 09:20 YEKT (03:20 UTC), with a speed of 19.16 +/- 0.15 kilometres per second (60,000[5] – 69,000 km/h or 40,000[5] – 42,900 mph), almost 60 times the speed of sound.”

    So this rock was going at about 19 km/sec. There is no way a NASA dragged back rock can hit earth at more than 12 km/sec. Or Earth escape is 11.186 km/sec. The Moon is within Earth’s gravity well, and anything in Earth gravity well can not hit earth higher than Earth escape velocity.
    The rock which hit russia was passing thru earth space and was in the Sun’s orbit. Even matching such a rock with such a trajectory would likely not be within the spacecraft’s abiltity and certain lacks the delta-v to bring such a rock with it’s trajectory into earth gravity well around the Moon.
    Or they look for a rock which is small and need less than 1 km/sec of change in trajectory, or part of problem of mission is finding such a rock which small enough and does have large delta-v difference with getting to a lunar orbit.
    Continue, wiki:
    “With an estimated initial mass of about 12,000–13,000 metric tonnes (13,000–14,000 short tons, heavier than the Eiffel Tower), and measuring about 20 metres in diameter, it is the largest known natural object to have entered Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event that destroyed a wide, remote, forested area of Siberia.”
    So this much bigger and more massive rock than 10 meter in diameter [or less] rock which they want to select. Or Russian impactor was at least 10 times more massive.
    The energy from an impactor is KE = 1/2 mass times velocity squared.
    Russian velocity would 19,000 times 19,000 times 1/2 of it’s mass:
    361 million times 12,000–13,000 metric tonnes [say 12,500,000 kg]. Or:
    4.5 x 10^15 joules
    1 MT nuke:”One megaton is equivalent to 4.18 x 10^15 joules”
    So say dragged back rock weighs 1000 tons and hits earth at 11 km/sec:
    11,000 times 11,000 is 121 million. Times 1,000,000 time 1/2 is:
    6.0 x 10^13 joules. Or 1/75th the explosive power as rock which exploded near Russian
    city. Such space rock with such explosive power are impacting earth every year.
    But “losing control” of such a rock and hitting earth is extremely unlikely, even deliberately trying to hit earth would be difficult. First if there is accident, it’s more likely it would hit the Moon.
    But say somehow it happenned, the next part is hitting something somewhere on Earth where it might have some effect- like maybe brake window. It should not even manage to break a window
    even if exploded right over a city, though it’s possible there would be some kind of sonic boom.
    Though as likely spectators show up and notice nothing.

  46. Christian_J. says:

    We appear to have the entire planet’s conspiracists here, all at once plus other NASA bashers that obviously do not follow Space Science at all. Obviously all those complainants simply erased that magnificent MARS landing, also how that current rover-robot is still working at it after more than one solid year. Look for yourself –

    One Year On MARS video –

    Yet they line up bagging and gasping in despair. It really is pathetic to read and behold.

  47. Coach Springer says:

    I am afraid that will change the pull on the oceans and release all the heat. Maybe not directly, but still … feedback.

    Well, that and there’s probably puh-lenty of debris from 6-meter rocks crashed into the moon already. There’s a lot of information to be learned from gazing at my own navel. I’m just not sure that it’s all that useful ,,, But we’ll never know until we look and look and look again. Funding available?

  48. Limiting physics – life support systems. Robots do not have all of the complex life necessary systems that fragile humans need. Machine exploration should be developed to near perfection – repetitive successes long before a jockey is saddled up. If a machine can be developed to capture – tow truck a rock then so can a machine do high tech exploration examination. A machine could easily have used a #6 Iron one handed on the moon mimicking a like human on earth.

    Folk lore and the magic of discovery. Man on the moon 1969, said a Grand-relative, a permanent divide – past from the present. A horse plow and a Saturn V rocket, separating the Nina from the Eagle has landed.

  49. ossqss says:


  50. Tom Trevor says:

    Before doing something as clearly useless as this, I would like to see NASA prove they are capable of sending humans back to the Moon. They could prove that by doing it.

  51. CodeTech says:

    Well, NASA needs a project to distract them from the harm they seem bent on doing here on Earth.

    The previous President set them on a task, a goal, something that would have spurred technology and been a boon to aerospace and high-tech unseen since the 60s. The current president erased that with the stroke of a pen. He replaced it with… well, nothing. But then, he’s demonstrated he’s good at surrendering. And some people stereotype that quality as French.

    Personally I think it’s pretty cool, but almost as pointless on its own as gathering rocks from the Moon. Don’t get me wrong, visiting the Moon was an awesome achievement, getting it to the point where the average person was no longer awed was even more awesome. But most of us are aware that the very thing we’re reading or writing with right now only exists because of the kick NASA gave it.

    Developing technology is no longer even remotely as difficult or expensive as it was in the 60s and 70s. I buy $2 microprocessors more powerful than everything NASA had for Apollo 11. Our cars are designed and built using technology that was barely even imaginable in the 60s. Designing spacecraft and launch systems should be a piece of cake today. Heck, Boeing just developed a composite commercial jetliner that stretched the limits of materials and engineering beyond imagination, technology that would massively benefit manned space flight, if we had it.

    Me, I recently re-watched 2001: A Space Odyssey and was amazed at how much of what was truly Science Fiction would be doable today if we only had the will. But I still want my flying car. Where is my flying car?

  52. Clay Marley says:

    NASA doesn’t want to lasso some stupid asteroid. They want to go back to the Moon, or go to Mars! Believe me, I worked at JSC for 11 years. I left when I saw it becoming totally politicized where their only real goal was to secure funding for next year’s budget. This means groveling at the feet of whatever politician owns the purse strings. And it means repeatedly starting programs and canceling programs.

    The result is they will do anything and say anything they think they must to get a budget. That lasso is around the neck of the NASA administrator.

    So you get a nearly worthless Space Station designed by bureaucrats that doesn’t do anything we really needed it to do, and you get the NASA administrator saying his primary goal is to make Muslims feel good about themselves? Please let me kick your boots, just don’t cut my funding!

    Of course it also means NASA cannot plan and budget more than 1 or 2 years out since both budget and priorities are constantly changing. That’s death to any real program that requires many years of planning.

    It isn’t entirely NASAs fault; it’s the way the system is set up. The only way to fix it is to give NASA a fixed percent of GDP for the next 20 years and tell them to do what they think is best.

  53. D. Cohen says:

    Am I the only person here who sees the birth of a new weapons system? The same technology used to put rocks into a moon orbit can be used to aim them at your enemies on earth. They would be as destructive as nuclear weapons without any of that nasty radiation and fallout.

    On the plus side, at last a real motive for kicking off a true “space age” as nations hurry to acquire control over stockpiles of orbiting asteroids to provide for their national ….. defense. ( As long as everyone’s well behaved, there’s nothing to worry about. /s)

    I think that there are people in NASA who want to get man back out into space — and who are both quietly and thoroughly aware of the military aspects of diverting asteroids.

  54. Dudley Horscroft says:

    There is an intriquing set of limitations for finding a suitable asteroid.

    1. Size – how many are small enough to be able to move. Assuming same density, mass is proportional to the cube of the diameter, hence double the diameter, mass is 8 times greater, treble the diameter mass is 27 times greater. Difficult.

    2. Must be in orbit very close to plane of earth’s orbit, else there is far too much energy needed to remove the ‘vertical’ velocity.

    3. Must be in a near circular orbit. For an object in an elliptical orbit, the speed passing earth would be greater, and the more elliptical the greater the speed differential. For an object passing outside the earth, it will have to be accelerated to get up to earth’s orbital velocity, give or take a few MPH, so that a small change will make it possible to orbit the moon.

    4. It will have to be sufficiently rigid that it will not be disintegrated by the force needed to change its orbit. This means that it must have a massive density to provide a gravitational force to hold it together, or it must be rigid, not a collection of rubble. It may well be a collection of rubble, but using any force on such a collection woujld be like the starting shot in snooker – hit the frame and the collection of reds scatters over the table – there is zero adherent force.

    5. Thinking about the Tunguska object, this was according to Gbaikie’s quotation from Wikipaedia, about 20 m in diameter. OK assume exactly 10 m radius.
    Volume of sphere = 4/3.pi.(r cubed). r cubed = 1000. 4/3 times pi = 4.18879
    So volume of sphere 10 m radius is 4 188.79 cu metres. At SG of 1 this is 4 188.79 tonnes. If the Tunguska object was 12 000 to 13 000 t. So its SG would have been from 2.8 to 3.1. Quite a dense rock.

    6. If the proposed asteroid has a density of about 1, and is only 10 m diameter, from the above its mass will be about 500 t. Assume 500 x 1 t chunks, each of these, depending on speed, could do quite a fair amount of damage, depending on how much is abraded when slowed by the upper atmosphere. Think moon rockets and the protective nose cap – pumice would act similarly – rigid but quickly abraded, and probably, from a 1 tonne chunk, there could be a fair bit left.

    7. But if it is really rigid, and is high density, you could be looking at a 1500 t lump and there might be 500 t left when it gets through the upper atmosphere. Of course, the robot could have latched on to a 45 m diameter rock – if so, think Great Meteor Crater in Arizona! Not very nice.

  55. David Ball says:

    Latitude says:
    June 21, 2014 at 5:52 pm
    David, letting a three year old drive a car is not a mistake……….

    This is a negative view. I guess by this logic, we should all stay home and do nothing. What would be the point of trying, anyway?
    We have to get off our collective asses and DO something.
    To quote Lee Iacoca-”Speed up, slow down, or get the hell out of the way!!!!”.
    Will we trip and fall? Hell yes, but so what? That is how we move forward.

    I have posted solutions to this problem over my years posting on WUWT?. The apathy portrayed by most posters is sickening. It is small minded, which surprised me as I have a great deal of respect for those who have the courage to post here.

    We need to source energy and minerals off planet ( where resources are virtually infinite), and leave our home pristine. It is the ultimate “green” policy.

    By the way, those “three year olds” got us to the moon.

  56. David Ball says:

    Correct spelling is : Iacocca

  57. David Ball says:

    Carl “Bear” Bussjaeger says:
    June 21, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Carl, the reason they cannot is called “money”. Simple.

  58. John G. says:

    Land a lunar rover/lab on the moon in a crater then look around or drill down to find the remains of the asteroid that made the crater. You can probably do that right now on Mars.

  59. CRS, DrPH says:

    This is our first step to becoming a Type II civilization…..this is a fascinating article about Fermi’s paradox (where are all the civilizations in the universe?).

  60. MarkG says:

    “What I truly hate about this asteroid redirect mission is it being driven by NASA being so risk adverse they are unwilling to send humans past near Earth space. ”

    When most of their money is going on developing a rocket that will cost billions of dollars to launch, there’s nothing much left for developing anything to put on top of that rocket. Then there are money-sinks like JWST, which is, what, 300% over budget and ten years late?

  61. phlogiston says:

    While a cool idea in a dude-ish kind of way this seems a tad reckless. We want to research the risk of asteroid impact so we drag one to earth. If (a) the path toward earth is miscalculated or (b) it goes into moon orbit but this becomes unstable and breaks down, in either case the thing could easily slam into earth.

    Maybe the CAGW agenda explains this risk-taking. An asteroid impact would send up dust and gasses that would cool the climate. Plus if with a bit of luck (or calculation) it hit a major city, then it would trash the global economy, drastically cutting CO2 emissions. For warmists all their Christmasses would come at once. Maybe this is the plan.

  62. agimarc says:

    All of which puts them in direct competition with Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources – both of which plan on identifying and capturing asteroids / comets. The big question ought to be why is NASA competiting with US businesses rather than simply contracting for the service? Note that for the record, NASA does not have the capability to do this yet either. OTOH they do have a direct tap into an endless stream of our tax dollars which neither DSI or Planetary Resources does. Cheers -

  63. J Martin says:

    Too much to hope for that it will hit the EPA building I suppose. Still, one can but hope.

  64. Gunga Din says:

    So if any of the rocks on this asteroid contain carbon will somebody try to tax it?

  65. J Martin says:

    I guess at least it means NASA is doing something in space which is what NASA is for instead of wasting their budget on co2 nonsense pursuits.

  66. GeoLurking says:

    “2011 MD is roughly 20 feet (6 meters) in size and has a remarkably low density — about the same as water”

    Okay, that means that it will probably breaking up at 322000 ft and will shower the earth’s surface with fragments.

    And Nasa doesn’t have a stellar track record. Murphy’s law pretty much guarantees a fail on their part.

    “NASA lost its $125-million Mars Climate Orbiter because spacecraft engineers failed to convert from English to metric measurements when exchanging vital data before the craft was launched, space agency officials said Thursday.

    A navigation team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used the metric system of millimeters and meters in its calculations, while Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, which designed and built the spacecraft, provided crucial acceleration data in the English system of inches, feet and pounds.”

    Is this really the sort of thing that you want a group of bumbling idiots to undertake? After all, their mission focus has been changed to outreach rather than science.

  67. Ric Werme says:

    D. Cohen says:
    June 22, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Am I the only person here who sees the birth of a new weapons system? The same technology used to put rocks into a moon orbit can be used to aim them at your enemies on earth. They would be as destructive as nuclear weapons without any of that nasty radiation and fallout.

    Oh heavens, it’s all covered in Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, my favorite SF novel and one I was afraid had to wait for moon colonies before it could be turned into a movie. (After Apollo 13 and Titanic, it’s doable now. Judy Collin’s eponymous song would help make for a wonderful opening scene.)

    Oh yeah, the book. The theme is a bunch of upstart colonists rebelling from the heavy handed government in Washington, you’ve heard of it before. One of the threats to stop the gov’t military moves against them was to threaten to hurl rocks at Earth. That got laughed at, so they did, with a nice grid pattern designed to miss people.

    The book was also the first place where I read about surrogate birth. When the first “test tube baby” was announced, I patiently waited to see how long it would take the media to realize the fertilized egg could have been implanted in someone else’s uterus. Took a couple weeks.

  68. David Ball says:

    This type of exploration is where I would prefer my tax dollars going, rather than AGW.

    The great irony is that showing that asteroids have resource wealth would lead to a cleaner environ for all if retrieval is engineered correctly.

  69. Meteorites are worth good money; in addition to their target asteroid, they should lasso some smallish ones and auction them off. The ones that sell could be brought back on return shuttle trips.

    Open the pod bay eBay doors, HAL.

  70. phlogiston says:

    This project brings to mind the novel “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russel in which a group of Jesuit priests make a spacecraft out of an asteriod to investigate music broadcasts from Alpha Centauri

  71. Patrick B says:

    At the time of Apollo 11 the average age of those in the control room was 28. Now NASA is populated by folks in their late 40′s or older. And although I can’t find it, I bet the number of NASA “administrators” has climbed faster than those in public universities. NASA’s day is over; the faster we wind it down the more money we will save. Kill Orion and buy space from commercial suppliers.

  72. gymnosperm says:

    Gotta love the spuds, but…

  73. mpainter says:

    NASA trying to justify its existence. The NASA mission is over and the agency should be shut down and not be allowed to perpetuate itself. It is a gigantic rat-hole that money disappears into. The proposed asteroid mission is frivolous.

    As far as a Mars mission is concerned, it would cost trillions to send an astronaut there, and this NASA admits.

  74. John Blanton says:

    Haven’t arrogant humans learned anything about fiddling with nature? First we dump unprecedented amount of CO2 into the atmosphere and now we try to pull asteroids out of orbit. Can’t they see that this will lead to “Orbit Change?” An IPOC will have to be formed to exclusively focus on the human causes of Orbit Change. No doubt they will find that Orbit Change will have only negative effects and no positive effects. Then the debate will rage on between the Orbit Change alarmists and the Orbit Change deniers who are, by the way, clearly funded by Big Space. Stop the madness now!

  75. Benjamin P. says:

    If I could do this in KSP, no problem for NASA.

  76. bushbunny says:

    Big question, if they are successful in doing this, what do they hope to discover or research, that will help our planet? My mind boggles

  77. Here is a useful summary of some low delta-v asteroid potential targets.

    [From a study in the 1970s] The Amor asteroid “Anteros” (1973EC) was projected to have equipment launched to it in late 1992. Rendezvous would happen in 1993 and the equipment would be running at full steam by early 1994. After a delta-v of 1.6 km/sec, the cargo was to be enroute to the Earth-Moon system. It was to arrive in 1995 where two lunar gravity assists and a fuel thrust “capture maneuver” of 0.3 km/sec at orbit perigee would have put it into a circular orbit between the Moon and the Earth. (The 0.3 km/sec could be lowered by a third lunar encounter if so desired, but 0.3 km/sec is so small that it may be worth a little haste.)

    The Amor asteroid “Eros” offered essentially the same story. The launch date was scheduled for a year later, in 1993. The delta-v would have been 1.7 km/sec and would’ve taken two lunar gravity assists and a capture maneuver of 0.3 km/sec.
    In the late 1970s, a few of the newly discovered asteroids were also analyzed for rendezvous, e.g., the Apollo asteroids 1976UA (delta-v of 0.61 km/sec), 1973EC (delta-v of 1.43 km/sec) and 1977HB (delta-v of 1.06 km/sec). These calculations were made using 1970s computers and some remarkably persistent professionals.

    Since this 1970s study, using more sensitive telescopes, many more attractive targets have been found, including the asteroid 1982DB, which needs a delta-v of a mere 0.06 km/sec (i.e., 60 meters per second, or 130 miles per hour) to be captured by the Earth-Moon system.

  78. I am extremely skeptical about the feasibility, much less the affordability, of asteroid capture.

    That said, let’s take a 1000 ton, 10 m diameter ball. 10*6 kg. Let us further assume we only need 60 m/s to initiate a lunar gravity assist capture (on some unknown date). (Note: 1982DB is a diameter of 330 meters (about 3 billion tons), but let’s assume we can find a small one.).

    1000 tons * 60m/s
    We must still give an impulse of 60 million kg-m/s.

    The rocket engine under development with the greatest specific impulse is the Dual Stage 4-Grid Ion Thruster with a 19,000 m/s specific impulse (N-s/kg). To shove this 1000 ton ball 60 m/s would take

    Impulse Needed (mv) = 60,000,000. kg-m/sec
    Specific Impulse Dual Grid Ion = 19,000. m/sec
    Minimum Propellant Xenon = 3,158. kg (delivered to asteroid)
    Force of Ion Drive = 2.5 N
    acceleration of Asteroid = 2.50E-06 m/sec2
    Number sec to reach Delta-V = 2.40E+07 sec
    Number of sec/day = 8.64E+04 sec/day
    Number of days to reach Delta-V = 278. days Do able!
    Mass solar panels (assumption) = 10. kg/kW
    Power of Dual Grid Ion = 250. kW
    Mass of solar Panels = 2500. kg
    Dry weight of craft = 1000. kg (assumption)
    loaded weight of craft (dry+solar+prop) = 6658. kg at Rendezvous

    Delta-v from LEO to Rendezvous = 4000. m/sec (Escape 3200 + 800 m/s inter orbit assumption)
    Impulse from LEO to Rendezvous = 2.66E+07 kg-m/sec
    Isp = 19000. m/sec
    mass of propellant LEO to Rendezvous = 1402. kg. (+20% to lift that prop.)

    Est mass of craft at Dep = 8340. kg
    Cost to LEO = $25,000 / kg
    Cost of craft to LEO = $208 million + Development.

    Hey a bargain!
    But let’s remember, this was a 1000 ton, 10 m diameter ball we only had to push 60 m/s to achieve a lunar gravity assist capture at the optimum day and “phase of the moon.”

    Most of the opportunities needed Delta-V’s of over 1000 m/s delta-V.
    If 1200 m/s delta-v is needed,
    then we are probably talking about at least two crafts, working simultaneously,
    each with 40,000 kg of Xenon Propellant, burning for 8 years
    each craft weighing 46,000 kg
    Costing $2.4 Billion to get the both craft into LEO.

    I note that we use about 100,000 kg of fuel to move a lucky 1,000,000 kg asteroid into a high earth orbit.

    If you used the Dawn type of Ion Thruster, Isp = 1900 m/s, then each craft would be 1,190,000 kg and would cost $30 billion each. The propellant would by 2 times as much mass as the asteroid.

    If you wanted to use high thrust hypergolic fuel, Isp -300, then each craft would carry 36 million kg of fuel and it would cost $9 trillion — each.

  79. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Ric Werme says: June 22, 2014 at 2:53 pm Oh heavens, it’s all covered in Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,

    Thanks, Ric for the title reminder. Just ordered it from my local Library.

    Stephen – instead of wasting all that fuel, better to set up sail on the asteroid and use light pressure from the Sun – plus the Solar Wing as appropriate – to manouevre the asteroid into near space. But to finally get it into a suitable orbit you would probably have to use a nuclear power plant heating bits of the asteroid in an “ion drive” No point in taking umpteen tonnes of ‘fuel’ when there are bits of asteroid you could use.

  80. Mac the Knife says:

    David Ball says:
    June 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Precisely stated!

  81. Mac the Knife says:

    Latitude says:
    June 21, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Your condescending analogy is crap.
    I am not a ’3 year old’. Nor are the host of other professionals that devoted their careers to aerospace and astrospace excellence.

    With political and financial commitment, my predecessors landed humans on the moon in less than 10 years. We built on those successes by developing the space based communications technologies that connect the world communities and drive the world economies today. We put space stations in orbit, developed much more efficient commercial and military aircraft, and sent space craft to explore the corners of our solar system and beyond. We provided the means for you to disparage our life time efforts via those satellites and the world wide web on the page of this blog and others.

    No thanks are necessary. It’s just what good scientists and engineers do……. everyday.
    Advancing technology to make human life easier and better is what we do.

  82. @Dudley Horscroft at 10:16 pm
    better to set up sail on the asteroid and use light pressure from the Sun – plus the Solar Wing as appropriate – to manouevre the asteroid into near space. …. No point in taking umpteen tonnes of ‘fuel’ when there are bits of asteroid you could use.

    First, my point was how utterly idiotic it is to try to change the orbit of a 1000 ton asteroid. I was focused on 500 m/s to 2000 m/s delta-v necessary. My research brought out the possibility of sub 200 m/s delta-v if we are very lucky at finding small asteroids and VERY patient at waiting for one opportunity to deflect it to where it must be.

    How much force can you get with a solar sail?
    The total force exerted on an 800 by 800 meter solar sail, for example, is about 5 newtons (1.1 lbf) at Earth’s distance from Sol,[2] making it a low-thrust propulsion system, similar to spacecraft propelled by electric engines (Wikipedia)
    Ok. That is about the same force as we can get from DS4S Ion drive. The DS4S is under development, but there have been several one stage Ion drives with years of operational experience. There has yet to be a solar sail of any size deployed that has proven propulsion — only for deorbit via atmospheric drag. Nothing even 1% the size of that sail has been deployed even temporarily, much less for years.

    But a big problem is that that force is available in limited directions. You cannot get a net force on the sale with a component toward the sun.

    As for using the asteroid itself as reaction mass, that would be great Why bring up tons of Xenon from Earth when we have tons of… ?What? at the asteroid? Why? Because with Xenon, we can get a propellant velocity of 19,000 m/s.

    Ok, we can’t throw rocks at 19,000 m/s. but we have so many more rocks! What kind of rock? How solid? How do you throw it? How do you mine the asteroid when it is so small it has virtually no gravity? How do you create and maintain a weightless mining operation completely autonomously? .

    Maybe we just send up a robotic Alan Shepard with a golf club and it just keeps swinging at pebbles. If you have 1000 tons of rock, and you can launch it away electromachanically at 100 m/s, you will have to throw away about 1/2 the rock just to get the other half to change by 60 m/s.

    Using the asteroid as reaction mass would be ideal. But it is an engineering nightmare. TANSTAAFL.

    P.S. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a favorite book.
    I was just on a long trip and had playing on Audio books: Starship Troopers, Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Stranger in a Strange Land. Hard to believe these three came from the same pen in a span of 7 years.

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