Keck Continues Work on Asteroid Return Mission

Illustration of an asteroid retrieval spacecraft in the process of capturing a 7-m, 500-ton asteroid. (Image Credit: Rick Sternbach / KISS)
Illustration of an asteroid retrieval spacecraft in the process of capturing a 7-m, 500-ton asteroid. (Image Credit: Rick Sternbach / KISS)

Here’s something interesting: the Keck Institute for Space Studies has continued work on the Asteroid Return Mission Study that it published last April. The report is the basis of a new NASA plan to return an asteroid near Earth and send a human crew to explore it.

The institute’s website indicates that funding of technical development work began in October 2012 under the direction of Caltech campus lead Paul Dimotakis, NASA JPL lead John Brophy, and external lead Louis Friedman.

The technical development work includes three main areas: near-Earth object observational effort; mission and system design; and concentrating in-space solar-thermal power. The work is described below in an excerpt from Keck’s website.

Asteroid Return Mission Study

Technical Development

Caltech Campus Lead: Paul Dimotakis
JPL Lead: John Brophy
External Lead: Louis Friedman

The Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) workshops on the Asteroid Return Mission concept explored and established the feasibility of capturing and returning an entire near-Earth asteroid (NEA) to lunar orbit by the middle of the next decade, and identified the benefits that such an endeavor would provide to NASA, the nation, and the world. This technical development will start working on select technical issues identified in the study to significantly enhance the prospects of making an asteroid capture and return mission a reality. Selected issues include:

  1. Near Earth Object Observational Effort: initiation of the observation campaign essential for the discovery and characterization of a sufficient number of attractive NEA targets so that mission planning can be performed with confidence;
  2. Mission and System Design: a more detailed mission/system design activity to investigate the details that were beyond the scope of the initial feasibility study;
  3. Concentrating In-Space Solar-Thermal Power: development of key aspects of in-situ concentrated solar power technologies for the extraction of asteroid resources, their use for deep-space transportation of radiation-shielded crew vehicles, and, in the case of extracted water, for example, as a propellant for high-thrust propulsion.