Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space Technology

Solar Electric Spacecraft Propulsion Could Get NASA To an Asteroid 53

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-comes-the-sun dept.
coondoggie writes "In the process of detailing its $17.7 billion 2014 budget this week, NASA highlighted a mission to snag a 500-ton asteroid, bring it back, stash it near the moon and study it. It also took the time to put in a plug for an ongoing research project called Solar Electric Propulsion, which NASA says could be the key technology it needs to pull off the asteroid plan."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Solar Electric Spacecraft Propulsion Could Get NASA To an Asteroid

Comments Filter:
  • Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 14, 2013 @09:37AM (#43445683)

    Glad you linked that article that includes mention of this mystery research project for Solar Electric Propulsion and mentions not a single speck of information as to what the hell that is.

    in case you're wondering its the kind of ion drive Deep Space 1 [wikipedia.org] (NSTAR) , progressing technology but not some crazy new thing.

    • Which may all be true... While you and I know what an ion drive is, and you may have even been following along the development news for NSTAR, NEXT, HiPEP, and even the occasional blurb about VASMIR, the average U.S. citizen has no clue what you're talking about. Calling it a solar electric propulsion system helps with public outreach. You want public funding, you have to get public buy-in.
    • TFA also treats this as some new development. It might be new to NASA, but it is also used on Advanced EHF (which I happen to work on) where we used it to raise the orbit after an apogee kick engine failure, Also, the Russians have been using it for something like 20 years.

        Brett

    • Lots of details are in the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) study from last year. Not sure when NASA is going to release details about their version, but I bet it is pretty similar. http://www.kiss.caltech.edu/study/asteroid/asteroid_final_report.pdf [caltech.edu]

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @09:56AM (#43445729) Journal

    Ok, so once the asteroid collector has delivered the asteroid to high lunar orbit, what does the spacecraft do then?

    Well, if its got even a tiny fraction of its propellant left over (remember it just towed something maybe 100x its size clear across the inner solar system) , it slowly spirals down to low earth orbit and... REFUELS.
    Now here's where things get interesting. Once it's refueled (remember that while its main consumable is up to 12,000 lbs. of Xenon, it gets its energy from solar power), it can do any number of things. Of course it could be sent out again to get another asteroid, including, as I mentioned in a previous post, one with precious WATER (Fuel and Oxygen!), but that might be boring. How about having it PAY FOR ITSELF by moving satellites from LEO to geosynchronous orbit. (This is very expensive as it typically requires an additional booster, I think the cost per pound is at least double that to low orbit). I think this market is on the order of $5B per year.

    The reason why this would work is because the asteroid tug would clearly be capable of moving very(!) large payloads. It wouldn't even have to be very slow, if it can accelerate a 500 ton asteroid at 1/10,000th of a g, it could accelerate a 5 ton satellite at say 1/200th of a gee (taking into account the tug's own weight). So it could deliver the satellites in weeks if not days. Of course there would need to be a few minor design modifications to the tug. The collapsible "bag" would have to be removable and some sort of industry standard docking ports added. There would need to be some provision for refueling ports and critical components (gyroscopes, reaction wheels, electronics) would need to be replaceable/upgradeable like the Hubble space telescope. Of course servicing this "space tug" in this way is probably beyond the near term capabilities of robotics. However, rather than this being a problem, it could be an opportunity... ... for the International Space Station to actually be USEFUL. Here it could serve as a fuel depot, servicing "garage" and interchange point for these "space tugs". The kind of problem that robotics can't handle yet are ideally suited for an astronaut with a wrench (and maybe some elbow grease). The fact that the main propellant for these tugs is Xenon, an inert noble element, makes handling the fuel much less problematic (no problems with corrosion or toxicity) and safer (no fear of explosive combustion). Even the fact that these tugs use ion thrusters would be an advantage meaning that everything would be happening very slowly, if one went out of control they could probably move the entire station out of the way (like they do when avoiding space junk). The station could also keep spare, interchangeable parts for these tugs such as additional "bags" or robot arms or other modules. In short, the ISS would have a PURPOSE. (Although a pressurized "dry dock" would be preferable, substantial maintenance could be performed in a vacuum as the Hubble telescope servicing missions, Skylab repairs and recently tested refueling robot at the ISS).

    With even a little thought, these space tugs have lots of additional uses. The same high power ion engines that can move a 500 ton asteroid could also send 500 tons of cargo cheaply (if slowly) to Mars. The same collapsible bag that can capture a tumbling asteroid can easily capture a much lighter piece of space junk. All it takes is for a government with foresight to make the initial investment that may (as I've suggested) quickly repay itself perhaps many times over. And isn't that the purpose of government (if not NASA)?

    (By the way, putting the mini-asteroid in high lunar orbit may be useful as a last resort because, if we detect a threatening object heading our way, it might be in a good position that we could put the mini-asteroid on a new trajectory to hit the object and thus deflect it out of the way. With luck the 500 ton mass will strike the incoming object at a high incidental angle and at a significant velocity since it'll be c

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      I'd add one other use: since the craft working as tugboat could take sats from LEO out to geostationary or geosynchronous orbit it could bring back satellites that are operational but for needing fuel or minor repairs and then put them back.

      Right now, companies have to eat the cost of those satellites that have run out of fuel needed to refine orbit and point their antennas. Some of those fuels are toxic and require careful handling; IIRC hyrazine is one of them. I suppose repairs would be on a case basi

    • How about having it PAY FOR ITSELF by moving satellites from LEO to geosynchronous orbit. (This is very expensive as it typically requires an additional booster, I think the cost per pound is at least double that to low orbit). I think this market is on the order of $5B per year.

      The cost of the additional booster is offset by the income from getting the satellite into GSO weeks and months ahead of the time it would get there by using your hypothetical space tug. Not to mention the availability of the boos

    • That is the idea. Kill the SLS and put the money to good use by building tug/depots. The docking will be lids. With lids being used, u can change out tugs or pieces.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It also took the time to put in a plug for an ongoing research project it has gong called Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP)

    It's loud. Even in space.

  • by EdZ (755139) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @10:15AM (#43445799)
    SEP encompasses a lot of things. Do they mean an Ion thruster (of the various gridded or gridless variants), a Hall-effect thruster, a FEEP thruster, an MPD thruster, a Helicon thruster, a VASIMR engine, an arc-jet or resistojet, etc? There are a lot of electric engines you could hook up to some solar panels (or an RTG, or compact radiatively cooled reactor).
  • Great (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @11:02AM (#43445965) Journal

    Too bad they can only make a drive that works during sunny days in space.

  • As long as it (the spacecraft) was already in orbit.

    And it would have to be unmanned, since its gonna take a lot of time to get anywhere.

    Np I havent RTFA

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @12:18PM (#43446303) Journal
    NASA is being smart here. They know going to an astroid is a long-term project. They know that when Obama is out of office, whoever replaces him might cancel the project (it happens a lot).

    So they are going to start by researching a new technology that will be useful whether the project gets cancelled or not. It's a clever way to deal with uncertain and shifting funding and requirements.
    • Clinton solved this with a treaty. NASA wanted private space in the 90s but neo-cons killed it. During WS term griffin got it done via cots. Now O is pushing hard to get private space going further while the G D neo-cons continue to try to kill it. Hopefully when FH flies, musk will push BFR which will be the end of SLS.
  • Why is it that NASA will not go and put a permanent base on the Moon? Everything else from that would be doable, expected. Is it that NASA is a afraid of using the Moon as a test bed?

    Apologies to Kermit the Frog.
    • is counting on private space putting up a base on the moon. It is a certenty unless the house wins at blocking it. In the meantime, NASA is focused on BEO.
  • While it is great that NASA is focusing on efforts to do something that may be very worthwhile in the long run, they (and the government) are ignoring the critical strategic importance of the moon.

    With Russia pledging to spend 7 times NASA's annual budget on space exploration this year, and with both Russia and China determined to establish permanent moonbases, the U.S. government is seriously dropping the ball.

    I really have to say, honestly, sometimes I think this administration is trying to pull the
    • Idiots like u are killing us. NASA is having private space go to the moon while NASA does things that need to be done but private space can not afford.
      • "Idiots like u are killing us. NASA is having private space go to the moon while NASA does things that need to be done but private space can not afford."

        "Idiot", am I?

        Please show me where there are official Government plans for private space industry to go to the moon. I follow the space program closely, yet I've never heard of that one. Yes, recently a private firm announced a plan to go to the moon (one announced plans to go to Mars, too) but those are in spite of NASA. They are not even remotely part of NASA's official plans.

        Second, we can't afford it? REALLY? We can afford useless military action in Afghanistan and Syria, which cost MANY TIMES mor

        • I would be remiss if I did not add: a while back the Obama administration announced that it had NO official plans to go back to the moon. Did you forget that already?

          Once again: while private industry may do it, that is a very far cry from official Government policy.
          • NASA is not the one who will DRIVE the lunar landing. They are instead, pushing the technical arena again. Just like they did with Saturn V.
            One last thing: Consider reading beyond FoxNews. Heck, try www.nasaspaceflight.com.
        • Quit tuning into Fox news. It rots your brain.

          Read between the lines. [examiner.com]
          Official? Not yet. [lasvegascitylife.com]

          BUT, NASA is pushing for multiple human launch vehicles IN SPITE of you neo-cons. In addition, they are pushing Bigelow Aerospace. They want and NEED BA to put up multiple space stations around earth and go the moon, so as to lower the price of launch. As launch prices go down, then NASA is able to accomplish more. So, what does NASA need to have a base on the moon? They do NOT need a single expensive heavy lif
          • "Quit tuning into Fox news. It rots your brain. Read between the lines."

            Do you have these WHOOSH moments all the time? Or just over this subject?

            I don't HAVE to read between the lines. What, you're going to base your argument on a rumor about a possible alliance between NASA and a corporation? Big fucking deal.

            Repeat: I was talking about CURRENT OFFICIAL POLICY. I don't give the slightest damn whether you think it will change in the future. I'm talking about RIGHT NOW.

            And I repeat again: the OFFICIAL administration policy right now. I remind you that the administration

          • "Quit tuning into Fox news. It rots your brain. Read between the lines."

            Do you have these WHOOSH moments all the time? Or just over this subject?

            I don't HAVE to read between the lines. What, you're going to base your argument on a rumor about a possible alliance between NASA and a corporation? Big deal.

            Repeat: I was talking about CURRENT OFFICIAL POLICY. I don't give the slightest damn whether you think it will change in the future. I wish it would. But I was referring to official policy, RIGHT NOW.

            And I repeat again: the OFFICIAL administration policy right now. I rem

            • Wow. Talk about Slashdot errors. It told me the first version of this post didn't post. Hence the second one. I think in all these years this is the first time it's done that to me.
    • by agm (467017)

      The US government shouldn't be using wealth it confiscates from its citizens for things like this.

      If you want space exploration to be funded, then get your checkbook out. Convince others to do the same. But don't expect people who do not want to (or cannot afford to) to fund your hobby horse.

    • While it is great that NASA is focusing on efforts to do something that may be very worthwhile in the long run, they (and the government) are ignoring the critical strategic importance of the moon.

      AMAZING! Why didn't we think of this first?! I propose we create a space craft so large we can capture the moon with it! Something that big will need living quarters... I think we should call it the Enormous ARTificial Habitat! or EARTH for short.

  • That this could really be a bad move? I mean what if some mistake or miscalculation happens and then we have a 500 ton asteroid headed straight for Earth? Wouldn't it be better to examine the Asteroid in the field instead of bringing it back to Earth?
  • Am I the only person who worries that these missions will change the system in some non-computable way such that in a million years time a giant asteroid the size of Manhattan slams into Earth at twenty times the speed of a rifle bullet, killing all life except some extremely primitive microbes, which otherwise would have missed the Earth and headed into the Sun?

    Did that make sense?

Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself. -- A.H. Weiler

Working...