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NASA Space Science

NASA Planning Mission To 40-Meter-Wide Asteroid 205

FudRucker points out a story from The Guardian about NASA's plans to visit 2000SG344, an asteroid 40 meters wide and weighing roughly 71 million kilograms. The manned mission would take three to six months, and it would make use of the Orion spacecraft, which will be replacing to retiring space shuttle fleet. "A report seen by the Guardian notes that by sending astronauts on a three-month journey to the hurtling asteroid, scientists believe they would learn more about the psychological effects of long-term missions and the risks of working in deep space, and it would allow astronauts to test kits to convert subsurface ice into drinking water, breathable oxygen and even hydrogen to top up rocket fuel. All of which would be invaluable before embarking on a two-year expedition to Mars. As well as giving space officials a taste of more complex missions, samples taken from the rock could help scientists understand more about the birth of the solar system and how best to defend against asteroids that veer into Earth's path."
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NASA Planning Mission To 40-Meter-Wide Asteroid

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:47AM (#23347076)
    They should have them bring a can of white and Black Paint to measure its affect.
  • by ThreeGigs ( 239452 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:52AM (#23347086)
    Okay, so it's really really big. But not "too" big. And it just happens to be in an orbit that's very close to earth's orbit around the sun. So I'm guessing that with the right nudges at the right times, it'd be possible to swing that rock around the moon and park it in orbit around the earth. And having a million tons of raw material in orbit is something that both makes more sense than a manned landing, and is a lot more interesting and exciting, to me at least.
  • by m95lah ( 55920 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @02:58AM (#23347114)
    Well, that sounds cool.

    But what I would really like is for someone to work out roughly how much energy this would take.
    More or less than all nukes on earth, for example?
  • Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Erpo ( 237853 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:17AM (#23347178)
    Unmanned missions may be cheaper and safer, but sending out real people to expand the horizons of human activity in space is much more important. It gets people excited! That brings in money and inspires young people.

    Then, when NASA has a huge group of talented experts and tons of cash, they can do real science instead of worrying every day about whether the budget will get slashed before they can complete the current round of experiments.
  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:19AM (#23347186) Journal
    No, forget the rock. What you want to capture is a comet. We need water and oxygen in space far more than we need silicates and iron. I propose making a really big zip-loc bag and slipping it over a comet. As the comet outgasses, the bag fills up. By venting in the right direction at the right time, you might be able to push the comet into a friendlier orbit, and voila, millions of cubic metres of propellant, oxygen and water.
  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:21AM (#23347202)

    It's got 1.37 km/s hyperbolic excess velocity, and on an orbit that damn near intersects ours. That means it takes a little more than 1370 m/s of delta-v to perform the capture. At 7.1E7 kg, that's about 6.6E13 joules -- approximately 15kt TNT equivalent worth of energy.

    Assuming a high performance LOX/Methane engine, it would need about 34kt of propellant (rockets are inefficient for delta-v low relative to exhaust velocity). Note that this is a significant proportion of the asteroid mass. To make it economical, you'd need something more exotic -- a mass drive throwing bits of asteroid, or a high performance solar-electric ion drive, for example.

  • by afaik_ianal ( 918433 ) * on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:40AM (#23347292)
    The actual object is only 71,000 tonnes, not 1.1 million tonnes as claimed by TFA.

    The energy of any possible collision with Earth is "1.1 million tons of TNT", which is about 4.6 petajoules. I expect the energy required to pull it into orbit would be in that order of magnitude, as you'd basically be trying to slow the thing down as it got near us.

    I'm not sure how you many nukes it would take to apply that much kinetic energy to an object in space, but the biggest nukes can release in the order of 2 petajoules of heat.

    I'm not sure that I'd want an object that size -- without any means of correcting its orbit -- hovering over my house though.
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:43AM (#23347306) Homepage Journal

    It would be awesome, don't get me wrong.. I actually think this is The Way To Go [TM] and I'm surprised to even see this being studied but NASA is not planning to send a manned mission to an asteroid, not now, not in 20 years time.. maybe *after* Mars is done but as I doubt NASA will have anything to do with that, I'm thinking they won't have anything to do with going to an asteroid either.
    Plans were made to do it with Apollo, in the 1970's but then the Shuttle came along and the US confined themselves to low earth orbit.

    Their new capsule design is basically Apollo again so the old plans are on the table. An asteroid mission is a stepping stone to missions to the planets. It is shorter, but interesting all the same.

    The asteroids are a likely resource for Earth. Planets are only of use to us for colonisation or science. There is no way to export from Mars to Earth for example, but water could be exported from asteroids to the moon.

    This is a great idea. I can't wait to watch.
  • Wrong Orion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stjobe ( 78285 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @03:52AM (#23347344) Homepage

    it would make use of the Orion spacecraft
    Too bad it's the wrong Orion [wikipedia.org]. Would have been a hell of a lot cooler if it was a project Orion spacecraft instead of a souped up Apollo capsule.
  • Re:Wrong Orion (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2008 @04:21AM (#23347484)
    Very cool link (in parent)- heres a tidbit to get you to go read it!!!

    StanisÅaw Ulam realized that nuclear explosions could not yet be realistically contained in a combustion chamber.

    Instead, the Orion would have worked by dropping fission or thermonuclear explosives out the rear of a vehicle, detonating them 200 feet (60 m) out, and catching the blast with a thick steel or aluminum pusher plate.

    Large multi-story high shock absorbers (pneumatic springs) were to have absorbed the impulse from the plasma wave as it hit the pusher plate, spreading the millisecond shock wave over several seconds and thus giving an acceptable ride.
  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @04:59AM (#23347640)
    Ranting aside, asteroid landing is pretty important if we're going to take advantage of the iron, other metals, and energy available to space travel. Solar mirrors have to be made out of something: the entire fossil and nuclear energy demands of this planet can be provided with a fairly modest set of solar mirrors. Even if you think it's unsafe or a military issue to beam the energy down to Earth, there's enough manufacturing of toxic materials and especially of cumputer chips and crystalline structures that would benefit from operating in orbit instead of on the ground, where it's more idfficult and expensive to control temperature, maintain purity, control temperature, and avoid gravitic problems in the formation of crystalliine or porous materials.

    Asteroid visits are a wonderful step towards the industrial use of space, far more effective and useful than a Mars mission. Do the Mars mission after we have a working space station that can build things, and a reliable supply line to it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 09, 2008 @05:45AM (#23347850)
    I offer the much better idea of nudging the asteroid so that it falls into a stable orbit between Mars and the Earth.

    Then each time it comes round, regular trips from the Earth could stock it with food, water and air, as well as building long-term habitation. It would then become a 'Mars Bus', able to shift lots of material, as well as all the Mars tourists/colonists who will want to go.

    And I haven't even patented this concept. Perhaps it's because I am from the UK and not American?
  • Solar Flare shelter? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @06:01AM (#23347916) Journal
    Does anyone who knows anything about solar physics know whether or not you could use a small body like this as a solar flare shelter? If you are in deep space or in a hard-to-change orbit around a large body (like the moon), if a solar flare happens you're out of luck. If you're on the surface of a body with little or no atmosphere I guess you're still out of luck. But with a small body like this could you just zip to the side in the shadow? Could this make long-term trips like this safer than say going to the moon?

    The idea is reminiscent of an Arthur C. Clarke story about a trip to Icarus.

    On a more sinister note, while the delta-V for CAPTURE of this body around earth might be prohibitive using todays technology, what about for IMPACT? Not the U.S. would want to do such an obvious war provoking act but wondering if it could be done with just chemical propellants. Of course it depends on how far in advance you have to alter the course, orbital parameters etc.

    Now if we were really good at orbital mechanics we could possibly have it skim the atmosphere to lose some delta-v for capture. Don't think anyone's gonna try that though.
  • I wonder ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @07:45AM (#23348350)
    ... what will be the affect of the next election on NASA and NASA's budget. According to this chart (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:NASA_budget_linegraph_BH.PNG [wikipedia.org]), it looks like Democrats tend to roll back NASA's budget whereas Republicans tend to increase it, ignoring of course the Apollo years (arguably that money was looked at as Cold War defense expenditures, not space program expenses). To summarize the chart, during the Carter years, NASA's inflation-adjusted budget went down. During the Reagan years it went up a little. During Bush I it went up dramatically, and then it went down quite a bit during the Clinton (I?) years. During Bush II it also went up a little. Now what will happen should a) Obama b) Clinton II c) McCain become the next president? My guess would be a) down a lot, b) down a little, c) up a little.
  • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @09:46AM (#23349170)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Direct [wikipedia.org]

    This is proposed back in 1990, and was deemed to be a viable plan for going forward with technology we had at that time. As with all missions, we don't know the SPECIFICS (as in, we don't have blueprints of the craft to take us), but if we had those we'd probably already be on the way there now. There are enough sound plans out there that I'm sure if funding were approved for the mission, we'd be able to do it. The problem though, is not in solving problems, getting a clear roadmap, or whatnot. The problem is in getting the government to simply lay down the funding so we can go.
  • by AshtangiMan ( 684031 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @10:26AM (#23349724)
    I'm reading that as partial toungue in cheek, but even if it is not you might get a kick out of the TC Boyle short story where a US president (future, unspecified) looking for something to bring the country together had a new moon installed (the old one was dingy). Anyway the new one was much brighter than the old, and at its unveilling people began to exhibit some strange behavior (trying not to spoil it just in case . . . ).
  • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 2short ( 466733 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:33AM (#23350738)
    "Think of all the money they could have saved if they sent a few robots up there."

    They could have sent thousands of robots.

    We've got two rovers operating on Mars for years for a fraction of the price it costs to send one human to the IIS in low Earth orbit. There's no question the robots get you more science for your buck, all the humans cling to is that they are better PR, but I wonder if that's true anymore? Here's a test: Without looking it up, think of the names of those rovers on Mars. Now think of the names of the current ISS inhabitants. You're paying hundreds of times as much for every day the ISS inhabitant is there.
  • by huckamania ( 533052 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @11:39AM (#23350814) Journal
    I'm much more excited about nasa going to an asteroid then going to Mars. We're decades, if not centuries away from being able to do anything useful with Mars except deny/confirm that it was once much, much nicer. Currently, it is a frozen sand trap that just happens to occupy an orbit between the Earth and the belt.

    That nasa is even asking for plans made my whole day. Sam Gunn would be proud.
  • by Eternauta3k ( 680157 ) on Friday May 09, 2008 @12:10PM (#23351288) Homepage Journal
    *reads title*
    Make that 40 meters You probably wouldn't be able to see it without a telescope. Hell, I think ISS is bigger than that.

"An organization dries up if you don't challenge it with growth." -- Mark Shepherd, former President and CEO of Texas Instruments