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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Shawn from High River

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.

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

James the Elder

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

Green Sand

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


Yeeeee haaaaa?

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.

Latitude what could go wrong

Bill Illis

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

David Ball

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.


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


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.

Dire Wolf

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?

Ed Barbar

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.


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!


What happened to Muslim outreach and climate soothsaying?
Will they have enough money left for their primary missions under Obama?

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.)


What could POSSIBLY go wrong? LOL

Keith Minto

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.

Pat Frank

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.


Eb Barbar
“….monkeys among men…?”
For shame, you racist sexist.


Sorry Ed (said Eb)


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?

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


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


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


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.


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.

John Slayton

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.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

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®.


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.


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)

Lance of BC

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!!!!


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


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

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.


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

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.

Eugene WR Gallun

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


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

James Bull

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


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

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.

Steve from Rockwood

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

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.


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.

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.

Coach Springer

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?

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.



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.