Let’s Haul Asteroids!

Paper or plastic?  Space vehicle bags up asteroid for return to Earth.

Paper or plastic? Space vehicle bags up asteroid for return to Earth (Keck Institute for Space Studies).

In their never ending quest to find something to do in space that does not involve going to the Moon, the wizards of space policy in the administration have seized on one of the nuttier ideas floating around space circles these days.  Based on a study last year by the Keck Institute for Space Studies, it is rumored that the new budget will propose to spend $100 million next year on a mission to “retrieve” an asteroid and bring it back to Earth-Moon (cislunar) space for detailed examination by humans.  Some see this as fulfilling the prophecy of President Obama in his 2010 appearance at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center – that since we wouldn’t be sending people back to the Moon (because “We’ve been there”) we would instead send them to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) in preparation for an eventual human trip to Mars sometime in the 2030s.  Maybe.

How far out is this idea anyway?  Not totally, but quite a bit.  In part, its degree of rationality is dependent on exactly how this mission fits into a general spaceflight strategy.  Since we do not have the latter, it’s hard to evaluate this proposal in programmatic terms.  So we must look at it as one possible “strategic” direction for human spaceflight for the next decade.

What’s the argument for moving an asteroid from its normal orbit to cislunar space?  Basically, the Orion spacecraft is a cislunar vehicle, capable of transporting people on missions of a few weeks duration within that zone of space and returning them to Earth (but not capable of much beyond that region).  If you exclude the lunar surface as a destination, there’s no place to go in cislunar space, except space itself.  A current scenario of a mission to “L-2” (the quasi-stable libration point 60,000 km above the center of the lunar far side) has to make up work for the astronauts to do there; one idea suggests that the astronauts “control” a robot collecting samples on the far side of the Moon, but that concept has not been fleshed out in detail nor is any planned surface sample rover and return vehicle in the development budget.

The principal programmatic virtue of the L-2 point is that Orion can reach it, so it is a prime “not-the-lunar-surface” place to go.  But it looks bad to go somewhere where nothing exists and then to do nothing once you get there – a “close but no cigar” scenario.  Hence, the ostensible plan about controlling robots on the surface of the Moon was developed (incidentally, such a robot could just as easily be controlled from the Earth using a communications relay satellite orbiting the Moon).  But the President said we were going to an asteroid.  So what’s the hold up?

Leaving aside the issue that few (or no) near-Earth asteroids are suitable targets for human missions, at least with current space systems (launch vehicle, life-support, total delta-v), the basic problem with human missions to NEAs is time – the length of travel time to get to a NEA, added to the amount of loiter time around it when you get there, followed by the time needed to get you safely home again.  During all this time, the crew is exposed to the full fury of solar particle events (the “coronal mass ejections” that can fry you in a few minutes time) and the steady stream of galactic cosmic rays – radiation unfiltered or stopped by the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts which protect crews aboard the ISS in low Earth orbit.  Add to this issue the fundamental problem of abort scenarios.  If things go wrong with your spacecraft soon after departure what do you do?  Can you get back home?  Usually, the answer is “not quickly or easily.”  The concatenation of these events usually ends in the sinisterly bureaucratic phrase, “loss of crew.”

The Keck Institute study of last year was hailed as a masterstroke to solve the asteroid mission dilemma (i.e., supposedly so many interesting targets but not the ability to get people to them): Bring an asteroid to cislunar space, park it at an L-point and examine it at our leisure.  Such an effort would be beneficial to a long-term scientific examination of the object, knowledge that we will need to understand tasks like resource extraction and processing.  So let the mountain (well, okay, maybe a knoll) come to Mohammed.

The problem with re-arranging the Solar System for our personal convenience is that it’s difficult in time, energy and effort.  Only the smallest asteroid could possibly be brought back to cislunar space; the object described in the Keck report is only a few meters across – a dried mud ball.  An asteroid that small will have virtually no geological diversity, thus giving us limited information about asteroid evolution (NEAs almost that large already exist in meteorite collections on the Earth.)  A body that size could be significant for resource utilization, except that we don’t yet know what we would process, how we would extract materials from it, and what we would do with the products once we have them.  Water is an extremely valuable resource in space, but the current fly-and-discard template of the Orion-SLS architecture does not feature an easy way to incorporate water into creating new capabilities.  The idea that platinum group metals (PGM) mined from an asteroid could pay commercially might be tested in such a scenario, but it’s not clear that a NEA suitable for capture and transport to cislunar enables that, given that we don’t know at this point even the nature of the feedstock we’ll get for processing.

There is one more issue to consider with asteroid hauling:  Safety.  An asteroid brought to one of the L-points has little chance of an accidental encounter with the Earth, but this may be a case where perception counts for more than fact (regrettably, an increasingly frequent event in science these days).  The recent Russian meteorite fall created an enormous publicity stir and many in the space community have sought to use that event to their advantage, with visions of fat federal contracts granted to ward off evil spirits raining down from the sky.  It’s one thing to ask for massive amounts of government money to protect the Earth from impact devastation; it’s quite another to ask for same to go and retrieve one of the dread objects.  Of course, this will be portrayed as an effort to learn how to “mitigate” asteroid collisions with Earth, but there’s nothing we can learn from a hauled rock at L-2 that we could not learn from a small robotic mission to a NEA safely situated in its own orbit around the Sun.  The idea that we can actually deflect an asteroid is still controversial, even in scientific circles where some will believe anything.

In the current wilderness of unattainable space policy ideas, this one certainly stakes out new territory.  Since we can’t get to an NEA, let’s bring one to a place to which we can get, thus successfully avoiding the place that we should be exploiting in order to attain true space faring capability – the lunar poles.  What to do and learn at this rock parked above the Moon is left as an exercise for the student.

Previous posts on human asteroid missions:

Destination: Moon or Asteroid? Part I: Operational Considerations

Destination: Moon or Asteroid? Part II: Scientific Considerations

Destination: Moon or Asteroid? Part III: Resource Utilization Considerations

This entry was posted in Lunar development, space policy, space technology, Space transportation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Let’s Haul Asteroids!

  1. Warren Platts says:

    If only such an asteroid mission only costed $100 million, that wouldn’t be a bad deal–but the Keck study estimates the total cost at $2.65 billion. That’s not exactly chump change and the money for it would probably have to come out of the HSF budget because the Science Directorate isn’t going to be interested.

    As for testing the viability of mining PGM’s using such a system, we already know the answer to that: it ain’t gonna work. You’d be extremely lucky to find a 500 tonne asteroid that contained 50 ppm of PGM’s. At today’s prices, the extracted PGM’s would be worth barely a million dollars. Not worth it, obviously.

    The right carbonaceous NEA might contain 20% water, so in theory, one could hope to get 100 tonnes of H20 out of a 500 tonne asteroid–which is admittedly non-negligible. But such water would be chemically bound in serpentine-like minerals, so that extracting water from them would be like trying to extract water out of dried concrete (which also contains ~20% H20). It would make a lot more sense to get water from regular water ice to be found in lunar polar craters.

    In any case, supposedly there should be at any given time temporary “moons” in HEO consisting of naturally captured asteroids of the size of 1 to a few meters. If we really want to see an NEA up close and personal, it would be a lot cheaper to wait until one of these is discovered….

    • Paul Spudis says:

      If only such an asteroid mission only costed $100 million, that wouldn’t be a bad deal–but the Keck study estimates the total cost at $2.65 billion

      Yes, I meant to make it clear that as reported in AW&ST, the budget request is for $100 M in the next year and it would be simply for studies, not as a new start.

    • It would also make more “cents” since a lunar shuttle could probably place water at the Lagrange points a lot more cheaply. A single SLS could launch a reusable tanker to the lunar surface with an empty weight of at least 15 to 25 tonnes but with large fuel tanks capable of accommodating over 100 tonnes of manufactured lunar fuel. Such a vehicle should be capable of at least ten round trips to the Lagrange points before its engines would have to be replaced after delivering several hundred tonnes of water or fuel or regolith in perhaps just a few weeks time.

      I’m all for the deposition of meteoroid material at the L4 and L5 Lagrange points using interplanetary light sails– when that fuel-less technology finally matures. But exploiting lunar water resources will get humans to Mars a lot quicker and cheaper than asteroid material, IMO.

      I should also note that the US NAVY has already invented an electric railgun, a weapon on Earth capable of launching objects at a speed of 2.5km/sec every ten seconds. The 12 meter long rail gun should ready within a decade.

      On the Moon, such a device would be capable of launching nearly 200 kilograms of material into lunar orbit– every minute! That’s more than ten tonnes of lunar material placed into lunar orbit or possibly to L1 or L2 per hour!!!

      Of course you’d have to be able to produce the aluminum projectiles for the rail gun out of lunar surface materials, but there’s certainly no shortage of aluminum in the lunar regolith.

      Marcel F. Williams

      • Robert Clark says:

        Nice points you made here. A big priority to do right now is to send small robotic missions to the lunar poles prove definitively that large amounts of nearly pure water ice exists there and that it can be processed easily into propellant.

        Bob Clark

        • Robert Clark says:

          Great news here:

          SPACE
          NASA Plans to Make Water on the Moon.
          APR 12, 2013 07:50 PM ET // BY IRENE KLOTZ

          NASA is developing a lunar rover to find and analyze water and other materials trapped in deep freezes at the moon’s poles and to demonstrate how water can be made on site.
          Slated to fly in November 2017, the mission, called Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE), will have a week to accomplish its goals.
          To stay within a tight $250 million budget cap — including the rocket ride to the moon — project managers are planning to use solar energy to power the rover’s systems and science instruments. However, sunlight on the places where water and other volatiles may be trapped only occurs for a few days at a time.

          http://news.discovery.com/space/making-water-on-the-moon-130412.htm

          This mission builds on the LCROSS mission. I consider LCROSS to be one of the most successful planetary missions ever developed since it returned such profoundly important results at such low cost. The cost/benefit ratio was tremendous. (As a mathematician I suppose I should express that as the benefit/cost ratio was tremendous. ;-) ) I hope NASA selects the same award-winning managers as for the LCROSS mission.
          Perhaps Dr. Spudis can answer a question about this mission. The article describes it will have a limited lifetime because of the limited sunlight at the location it will visit. Weren’t there locations close to some shadowed craters that were nearly continually bathed in sunlight?

          Bob Clark

          • Paul Spudis says:

            The article describes it will have a limited lifetime because of the limited sunlight at the location it will visit. Weren’t there locations close to some shadowed craters that were nearly continually bathed in sunlight?

            There are spots near the poles that are i sunlight for very long periods of time, but not truly “continuously.” A spot near the south pole’s Shackleton crate is in sunlight for about 95% of the year. Some small areas near the north pole are in 100% sunlight during that pole’s seasonal summer. These areas are close (kilometers) to locations of permanent shadow where we think there is water ice.

            However, I would not get too excited about this yet. This RESOLVE mission has been discussed for years and it never seems to advance beyond pre-phase A planning. I’ll believe it’s real when I see it launched.

  2. billgamesh says:

    “-many in the space community have sought to use that event to their advantage, with visions of fat federal contracts granted to ward off evil spirits raining down from the sky-“
    There is no other excuse to spend billions on space. If we do not use we will lose it.
    It is the nuclear industry that should be jumping on this train; deflection is all about nuclear energy. And the Moon is the only place to assemble, test, and launch nuclear projects.
    The big question should not be whether to visit an asteroid- it should be how are we going to transport fissionable material to the Moon!
    This is where the decision to combine crew and cargo vehicle in the SLS can be turned from a mistake into saving the world. The Orion capsule has a very powerful escape system and, along with survivable packaging, is the safest possible way to transport this ultimate hazardous material.
    I am curious if there are any natural craters near the water that would be easy to roof over with water tanks to create the first base. I cannot think of an easier way to get started. The next project is how to land with no lander. Such a vehicle is a “fat federal contract” if I ever saw one.
    The original lunar lander was a big vehicle with the re-entry capsule attached. I suggest looking into a simple frame with tanks and engines- and use the MCPV as the lander also.

  3. gbaikie says:

    What do you do with spacecraft that gets the rock.
    That could be more important than getting the rock.

    It seems like this mission is technological development which doesn’t have show stopper-
    it’s integration of tested technologies which gives a pretty robust space tug.
    If they are not thinking of how this tug can be re-used, I think they be missing
    an opportunity- and they may do not this.
    But compared with SLS, at least technological development which could be useful.

    As far as the rock goes. It can’t really have an economic value. But if like international
    cooperation bring back a rock could involve it.

    The rock would be too small and not have enough velocity to equal the Russian
    impactor:
    “Thirteen seconds after atmospheric entry, at 9:20:33 a.m. local time (03:20:33 UTC), the fireball, traveling at a velocity of 11.6 miles per second (18.6 kilometers per second), achieved its maximum brightness just south of Chelyabinsk, Russia, at an altitude of 14.5 miles (23.3 kilometers). The approximate effective diameter of the asteroid is estimated to be about 18 meters (about 19.7 yards), and its mass about 11,000 tons. ”

    So it was going 50% faster and more massive rock then one planned to brought to Earth orbit.
    But it could in future lead to or encourage larger rock to be brought back to Earth orbit and larger rocks might be economically mined.
    Another aspect about the rock is it could force NASA to do something with the rock. Perhaps it may occur to NASA that the material of rock could made into heat shields. Not suggesting the heat sheilds would likely be made so it’s economically production of a heat shield. But with trial and error we get to point where in future it may be economical to make heat shields in orbit, which lead to a cheaper way to bring crew or cargo back from the Moon.

    So it doesn’t appear to be a waste of money or time for NASA to get a space rock. It’s possible it
    it be the best thing NASA has done in decades.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      It’s possible it it be the best thing NASA has done in decades.

      The “rock” will not be stable at L-2 (or lunar orbit, for that matter), so it will have a limited lifetime wherever in cislunar it is brought. Neither budget nor Orion capabilities budget will support extended ops near “the rock” so maybe one mission, perhaps two tops. But we won’t learn anything from that about NEAs that we do not already know. As far as “low velocity” aspect of a potential impact goes, any object entering from cislunar will be traveling at least 11 km/sec (Earth-Moon escape velocity), fast enough to be in the hypervelocity regime and also energetic enough to do serious damage.

      This proposal is “something” to counter the criticism that NASA is “going nowhere and doing nothing.” So they’ll find a rock, bring it home and go to it. I would say it is the epitomy of idiocy, but the freak show isn’t over yet, so I’m sure that something even more moronic is in store down the road.

      • It would make a lot more sense to deposit small asteroids at L4 or L5.

        I’m not really sure why NASA wants to place a space hab at an L2 or L1 gateway since the Obama administration doesn’t want NASA to go anywhere:-)

      • gbaikie says:

        “It’s possible it it be the best thing NASA has done in decades.

        The “rock” will not be stable at L-2 (or lunar orbit, for that matter), so it will have a limited lifetime wherever in cislunar it is brought. ”

        I don’t think limited lifetime would be a problem.
        I would nice if rock was consumed within a couples years, but if NASA bring back a rock, I got the feeling it will be kicked around for decades.
        Probably some of it saved as some kind of holy relic.

        “Neither budget nor Orion capabilities budget will support extended ops near “the rock” so maybe one mission, perhaps two tops. But we won’t learn anything from that about NEAs that we do not already know. ”

        I am no sure any manned mission would go to it, maybe NASA will hire
        a SpaceX Dragon. Maybe other nation’s space agencies will send crew there. I mainly see it as robotic destination and sample return
        I think space rock are going to mined in the future, as soon as their is enough market for such raw materials.
        It seems possible we get material for space rock to make solar power harvesting in space for use energy needs on Earth. At some point in the future, maybe century in the future.

        Near term I think we should explore the Moon to determine whether there is minable water. And after this send crew to Mars. President’s Bush’s plan.
        But after we begin private mining of the Moon for water, I expect that
        this will create enough market to allow space rock mining.

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  5. DougSpace says:

    It seems to me that the Administration is doubling down on the plan which Obama laid out at KSC (i.e. bypass the Moon & head to Mars via an asteroid).  The ideas being tossed around buttress this overall plan.  But these ideas also are being put forward in order to give the SLS something to do.

    By this logic, I might expect additional ideas being put forward because, even if all of the various ideas were implemented, there’s a lot of time between now and about 2035.  At even only two launches per year, this would only come to 40 or more launches total.

    What will all of those launches be doing?  Multiple asteroid trips?  For what purpose?  Ever greater distances from Earth to empty space?  Rather, I am sort of expecting that this is leading to a larger Libration Gateway which would require multiple trips to construct and supply.  But again, for what real purpose?

  6. DougSpace says:

    The only way to make enough budgetary room for a Spudis-Lavoie-sized program would be to fundamentally change America’s space program and I don’t see how that plan could be pursued while so much of the budget is being dominated by SLS and Orion.  For example, even if NASA’s public-private programs were completely axed (about 500 million/yr), it would take the better part of a century to complete the plan.
     
    However, NASA’s public-private programs demonstrate that development costs can be considerably reduced when using an SAA approach.  So, I think that a Lunar COTS approach should be given consideration as a practical solution that wouldn’t require the termination action of the politically-supported SLS / Orion strategy.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      so much of the budget is being dominated by SLS and Orion.

      This year, NASA is getting about $17.6 B total. Of that, SLS and Orion is getting ~ $ 3.1 B of that total. By my reckoning, that’s not even half of the budget, so I would not use the the descriptor “dominated.”

      The real issue is not this spacecraft or that rocket — it is that the agency has no idea of what it’s doing, where it’s going, or how it will get there. Hence, silly ideas promoted as “paradigm shifts.”

      • DougSpace says:

        Ok. So to clarify, I’m talking about the exploration budget. Asteroid missions are being conjured up to justify the SLS and Orion. Those two are dominating the exploration budget which is where the main funding for any lunar development would come from. It matters whether SLS and Orion are being developed long-term because lunar development has much less budgetary room to work within so long as they are dominating the exploration budget. I accept that there is a politically supported track for very deep exploration which would benefit from a HLV. So the only other sizeable portion of the exploration budget is commercial space. Hence Lunar COTS as a follow-on to the current commercial programs.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          I’m talking about the exploration budget. Asteroid missions are being conjured up to justify the SLS and Orion. Those two are dominating the exploration budget which is where the main funding for any lunar development would come from.

          Actually, that’s not true either. If you look at the Spudis and Lavoie paper (posted here; see Table 2 therein), we budget for both a CEV (Orion, two versions, Block I and II) and a “medium” heavy lift vehicle (core SLS, 70 mT to LEO) in our architecture. It is possible to emplace a resources-based outpost on the Moon without heavy lift, but it does make things easier (by emplacing much of the lunar surface infrastructure using fewer launches and with shorter time-gaps.)

        • Joe says:

          “Asteroid missions are being conjured up to justify the SLS and Orion.”

          Actually asteroid missions are being “conjured up” to avoid discussing lunar return for political reasons (that is lunar return is associated in the mind of the current administration with the previous administration of another political party).

          “Hence Lunar COTS as a follow-on to the current commercial programs.”

          The justification for the original COTS program was to provide cargo transport for an existing facility (the ISS). If there were an ongoing lunar program you could attempt to use it to justify a lunar COTS, but in its absence you cannot.

          • libs0n says:

            Think outside the box Joe. Build a moonbase with a commercial-type program.

            If NASA was building a space station today, they could certainly take a different route than developing the space shuttle to build it. They could factor in commercial elements from the get go.

  7. billgamesh says:

    “This proposal is “something” to counter the criticism that NASA is “going nowhere and doing nothing.”

    The asteroid mission is so idiotic that if they go with it it will be irrefutable proof that NASA is broken at the top worse than anyone imagined.

    Though I believe nuclear thermal rockets are a poor choice it would be the cheap and nasty (though more expensive in the long run) way to launch a manned mission from from the Moon to….anywhere except some little rock. I believe Mars is also a poor choice but using Moonwater to fill a massive cosmic radiation shield- and doing a flyby Mars mission with NTR propulsion is the only mission that will be worthwhile at all.
    A base to process water and assemble, test, and launch the mission- using a water roof over a natural crater as a base- this is the bare minimum mission I could see spending tax dollars on.

    The purpose of the mission having little to do with Mars and everything to do with setting up a base on the Moon from which to launch impact interceptor missions.
    That is the best I can come up with Dr. Spudis.

    If comet siding spring were to hit Mars in 2014- after comet ISON put on a spectacular show at the end of this year- and NASA was prepared to publicize it like the new sputnik- I would say a Moon base would be a good possibility. But the Russian airburst is probably all there is going to be to build on.

    We just have to stay optimistic.

    “I don’t see how that plan could be pursued while so much of the budget is being dominated by SLS and Orion.”

    There is no space program without SLS and Orion- just a tourist company.

    “-the Obama administration doesn’t want NASA to go anywhere”

    No administration since Kennedy has wanted to spend money on NASA. You need FEAR to get money for such projects and sputnik terror was exhausted long ago.

    Asteroid interdiction is the only game and it looks like the opportunity to play is fast disappearing. If I was Bolden I would have called a press conference, or better yet had Obama on TV telling us we need a Moonbase- that things have changed since he said we have been there and done that.

    Things have changed. The explosion over Russia was real. The space community needs to pull together and embrace interdiction as the reason to get us out there.
    If not, all we will see in our lifetime is playboy clubs going in endless circles.

  8. Joe says:

    Paul Spudis says: April 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm
    “This year, NASA is getting about $17.6 B total. Of that, SLS and Orion is getting ~ $ 3.1 B of that total. By my reckoning, that’s not even half of the budget, so I would not use the the descriptor “dominated.””

    Actually not even close to one fifth of the budget, but why let a little thing like mathematics get in the way of another political attack on SLS/Orion?

  9. jfincannon says:

    “During all this time, the crew is exposed to the full fury of solar particle events (the “coronal mass ejections” that can fry you in a few minutes time) and the steady stream of galactic cosmic rays – radiation unfiltered or stopped by the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts which protect crews aboard the ISS in low Earth orbit. “

    The radiation belts do not stop radiation. The Earth’s _magnetic_field_ shields from solar protons and all except the highest energy galactic cosmic rays (and I am sure the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on ISS is glad about that). The mass of the Earth does block the latter. Luckily for Earth surface inhabitants, the atmosphere blocks these cosmic rays nicely.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      The radiation belts do not stop radiation

      They shield the crew of ISS from solar flares; they do not stop high-energy cosmic rays. We get hit by those on Earth (and hence, we turn old and die).

      • jfincannon says:

        The “radiation belt” is a belt of charged particles held into place by the Earth’s magnetic field. The radiation belt does not block or stop anything (I suppose the particles could possibly hit each other and be stopped, but this is infrequent), it is the storehouse of captured particles. These were captured by the Earth’s magnetic field.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          All right, the magnetosphere of the Earth protects the crew from solar flares. Satisfied now, Mr. Pedantic?

          • jfincannon says:

            Just trying to help, as usual.

            Still, I thought most cosmic rays were deflected by the magnetosphere, not just the solar flares. But you can phrase it anyway you like, of course.

            Nice monicker for me, though.

      • Don’t forget all of the radioactive material we naturally consume in our diets since radioactive materials are a natural component of practically every living thing on Earth, including humans.

        Although I believe that oxygen free radicals resulting from the oxidation of metabolized food may be the dominant culprit in the aging process. That’s why very large animals and cold blooded animals tend to live longer than small warm blooded animals. Some large whales and cold blooded reptiles can live for more than 200 years.

        Humans, apes, and birds also produce a natural antioxidant in their bloodstreams (uric acid) which may explain why these rather smaller warm blooded animals also have exceptional life spans.

        Marcel F. Williams

  10. Todd Martin says:

    1st) Asteroid retreival is quite a bit cheaper than lunar sortie missions since a lander and ascent stage do not need to be developed. It’s unfair to compare the benefits of the two unless equal dollars are assigned.

    2nd) Applied science & technology development is sadly omitted from the critique. The development of a space tug with high thrust SEP is an essential piece of space infrastructure that can be used for a variety of useful missions.

    3rd) This mission allows for partnerships between the planetary science community, private companies, and the HSF community; a long overdue approach.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Asteroid retreival is quite a bit cheaper than lunar sortie missions since a lander and ascent stage do not need to be developed.

      An unproven assumption. I believe that lunar return is affordable and have written on that here and elsewhere at length. No one knows how much this plan will cost, even if it gets beyond the viewgraph engineering stage.

      Applied science & technology development is sadly omitted from the critique

      Because there isn’t any — this is simply a space “stunt” to fulfill the current President’s direction to send people to an asteroid. Interestingly, it is also a tacit admission that the original plan to send humans on a multi-month sojourn to a distant NEA is not feasible.

      This mission allows for partnerships between the planetary science community, private companies, and the HSF community

      Any space mission can be configured to do this — it’s not a unique feature of this plan. In fact, it’s not a feature of this plan anyway — a rock will be dragged to cislunar space and then a crew will be sent on Orion/SLS to visit it. What “science” will be done there? What “private sector” activity will take place there? Don’t know? Neither does the agency.

    • But an asteroid retrieval program is really not a manned space program. I love NASA’s unmanned space program. What it has accomplished over the past 50 years exploring the solar system is simply astounding.

      But NASA’s manned space program has been trapped at LEO over the past 40 years principally because I think most people in Congress and in the White House really don’t believe that there is a future for human civilization beyond the Earth. They view manned space travel as similar to climbing the highest mountain or visiting the South Pole: you go there but you certainly don’t stay there to live!

      Even the Constellation program for the Moon and Mars was a program oriented towards– sorties– but not a permanent presence on either world. That’s why things like utilizing extraterrestrial resources, artificial gravity space stations, and lunar and Mars bases are either ignored or ridiculed by the medial and some government officials.

      Most humans may realize that the Earth is not the center of the universe, but they tend to feel that human civilization should always be confined solely to the Earth. And all that stuff about living on other worlds is simply Science Fiction or Science Fantasy to them!

      But NASA really shouldn’t be appeasing such misguided fallacies.

      It would be extremely foolish for our species to continue to confine our civilization solely to our planet of evolutionary origin especially during a time where nutty regimes around the world seem to be developing nuclear weapons that could end our civilization within the next few decades or the next few centuries– and also because we now know that the Earth has suffered several natural global mass extinction events in the past.

      So we need to find out if humans can live on low gravity worlds like the Moon and Mars and within artificial gravity worlds that we can manufacture ourselves using extraterrestrial materials . There is strong evidence that such ventures could dramatically increase our economic wealth and substantially improve the quality of life both on and off the Earth.

      A strong government manned space program like NASA should be leading the way!

      NASA should be our primary instrument for pioneering the rest Solar System so that the privateers and private citizens can take advantage of what NASA has learned in order to commercialize and colonize the New Frontier.

      Marcel F. Williams

  11. jfincannon says:

    “Of course, this will be portrayed as an effort to learn how to “mitigate” asteroid collisions with Earth, but there’s nothing we can learn from a hauled rock at L-2 that we could not learn from a small robotic mission to a NEA safely situated in its own orbit around the Sun. The idea that we can actually deflect an asteroid is still controversial, even in scientific circles where some will believe anything.”

    I recall seeing papers (old ones) about using a mass driver to move even more massive asteroids. I wonder if the proposed mission could be adapted to once of those concepts.

  12. Gary Miloglav says:

    On April 4, 2013, Charles Bolden told the crowd at a joint meeting of the NRC’s Space Studies Board (SSB) and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) in Washington:
    (On the question of working with other nations) Bolden agreed that other nations were interested in the Moon, and that NASA would be happy to work with them. “I have told every head of agency of every partner agency that, if you assume the lead in a human lunar mission, NASA will be a part of that,” he said. “NASA wants to be a participant.”

    and
    “I don’t know how to say it any more plainly,” he concluded. “NASA does not have a human lunar mission in its portfolio and we are not planning for one.”

    and, with regard to changing NASA’s direction back to the Moon:
    “I can make one promise to you: if the next administration changes course, it means we are probably, in our lifetime, in the lifetime of everybody sitting in this room, we are probably never again going to see Americans on the Moon, on Mars, near an asteroid, or anywhere,” he said. “We cannot continue to change the course of human exploration.”

    In the last political campaign, Romney stated that if his space advisor said what Gingrich said about creating a base on the Moon, the advisor would be fired.

    Not since JFK has any president ever cared a whit about space and it is unlikely that will change in our future. Even JFK only did it as a matter of national prestige after being behind the Soviet Union in nearly every aspect of space accomplishments of the time.

    So there you have it. If “we” want to go to the Moon, to develop it, and to create a space-faring economy and infrastructure, we are obliged to do it ourselves.

    Would it be possible for a TVA-like organization for space development? (See article in the Space Review at http://thespacereview.com/article/2274/1)

    Perhaps this is all we have left.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      NASA does not have a human lunar mission in its portfolio and we are not planning for one.

      Not unexpected, considering who Bolden works for. However, two points in response. First, by this statement the Administrator is ignoring his Congressional direction, which included the lunar surface among the many destinations identified for humans in cislunar space according to NASA’s most recent Authorization. Second, as he himself subsequently alludes to, policy is transitory. It has changed with changing administrations and will do so again. Bolden’s whining that “we cannot continue to change the course of human exploration” is rich, considering that is exactly what he and the guy he works for did (and in a completely arbitrary manner).

      Some presidents do care about space; as I have written here and elsewhere, President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration was an attempt to put our civil space program on a long-term, sustainable basis. It failed to do that largely because of bureaucratic foot-dragging followed by the unilateral actions of his successor (described in these previous posts). Kennedy himself cared nothing for space; he simply wanted to beat the Soviets in some arena of (very) public activity. If he could have found something other than a race to the Moon to do so, he would have done that instead of space.

      I know that many have great faith in the “commercial” sector, but in my opinion, their behavior to date has been less than exciting — most of them are more interested in obtaining the next increment of federal contract or grant money than they are in developing real commercial markets.

      • gbaikie says:

        “I know that many have great faith in the “commercial” sector, but in my opinion, their behavior to date has been less than exciting — most of them are more interested in obtaining the next increment of federal contract or grant money than they are in developing real commercial markets.”

        Which real commercial markets would you have them develop?

        How could it be possible for the commercial sector deliver cargo or crew to ISS without “the next increment of federal contract or grant money”?

        And if the answer is it is not permitted to do this in any other fashion, then why should the “commercial” sector not attempt to serve this market?

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Which real commercial markets would you have them develop? How could it be possible for the commercial sector deliver cargo or crew to ISS without “the next increment of federal contract or grant money”?

          You miss my point, which is that without any commercial markets, there is no “private sector human spaceflight.” Even its supporters admit that. Their counter-claim is that such will naturally emerge after their industry has been “bootstrapped” by federal development money. In New Space, I see a lot of wishful thinking and no customers, except for government.

          • gbaikie says:

            “You miss my point, which is that without any commercial markets, there is no “private sector human spaceflight.” Even its supporters admit that. ”

            I seem to be still missing your point.
            Of course we live in a world of vast and complex commercial markets. I assume you mean without any commercial markets in space [which isn't true as there is a commercial satellite market] but if you meant not enough commercial markets in space I would certainly agree with you.
            But perhaps you mean there is not any commercial orbital and beyond human spaceflight markets [If you don't stipulate "orbital and beyond" it seems we getting evidence of a beginning of commercial sub-orbital market with hundreds of people having pre-bought these tickets].
            But then again, I don’t see how you could have “private sector human spaceflight” without there being a commercial market providing this to the private sector.
            Other than the foray into teacher to space program I don’t think any one is imagining NASA is going to fly the private sector to the Moon or even to ISS. The only reason Russian space agency did this, was they wanted some money. And NASA seems to paying them quite a bit these days.

            “Their counter-claim is that such will naturally emerge after their industry has been “bootstrapped” by federal development money. In New Space, I see a lot of wishful thinking and no customers, except for government.”

            I think pretty much a given that SpaceX and perhaps some other companies will be flying crew to ISS.
            I think they have pretty much given up on idea of SLS serving as some kind of weird back up.

            I think the most likely path to “private sector human spaceflight” will follow as consequent of sub-orbit spaceflight technology development.
            But I think if NASA ever gets around to exploring the Moon and finding minable deposits of water, then that is another path.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            I’m not talking about the commercial satellite launch market; I said “human commercial spaceflight.” And there simply is no commercial market for that. I don’t care how many “tickets” people have bought for that (a lot of people own title to the Brooklyn bridge). Almost 10 years after Space Ship One won the X-prize, there has yet to be single commercial suborbital spaceflight. The advent of this “new era” in space is always “near” or “close” but never seems to arrive.

      • Robert Clark says:

        The reason why return to the Moon plans are controversial is because of the idea that they have to be expensive such as the $100 billion Constellation program. But we already know to do accomplish it at relatively low cost, by going small:

        Encyclopedia Astronautica.
        Early Lunar Access.
        http://www.astronautix.com/craft/earccess.htm

        By following this approach mounting a manned lunar landing mission would be possible by the first launch of the SLS in 2017.

        Bob Clark

        • Joe says:

          Bob,

          A few quotes from the article to which you link:
          - The launch vehicles (Shuttle plus Titan IV or Ariane-5) would have required some upgrades. The Shuttle would have needed either a lightweight Al-Li External Tank or Advanced Solid Rocket Motors to carry 25,720 kg payloads to a 300 km orbit. The new ET later became available but the ASRMs were cancelled in 1994. The ELVs would have been uprated to carry a 27 t payload into Earth orbit. Proposed modifications included new aluminum-lithium tanks for the Titan IV plus a pair of additional solid rocket boosters for the Ariane-5.
          - The Centaur G’ would have been modified for missions lasting up to ten days rather than a few hours. A single uprated RL-10 engine (since developed for the Delta III project) would have replaced the previous twin-engine configuration to save weight and improve reliability. The propellant tanks would have been enlarged and additional thermal insulation, power and reaction control propellant would have increased the in-orbit lifetime.
          - Entirely new systems included a multiple payload adapter plus lunar science equipment and surface elements carried on the first unmanned ELA mission. The major new element was the Lunar Transfer Vehicle itself. It features an advanced high performance four-engine liquid oxygen/hydrogen propulsion system that throttled to enable soft landings on the Moon. The engines would be based on the RS-44 or similar systems. Redundancy was achieved through the capability to shut down a diametrically opposed pair in the event of a failure.
          - The payload mass exceeded the Shuttle’s landing limits in the event of an abort, so a mechanism that dumped the LEV propellant in case of emergency would have to be incorporated. NASA safety requirements probably required that the propellants be carried outside the Shuttle cargo bay during ascent as well. Fortunately, Boeing had studied a system that would transfer excess propellant from the Shuttle External Tank in orbit.
          - Technically, ELA also ran into problems when NASA subsequently discovered that General Dynamics had underestimated the weight of the Lunar Exploration Vehicle. Had the project been approved, it would have required further costly upgrades to the Shuttle (=Advanced Solid Rocket Motors in addition to the currently approved super-lightweight External Tank) and Titan IV (=stretched aluminum-lithium propellant tanks).

          While a couple of these developments (Shuttle light weight tank, and new variant of the RL-10) were later developed the others were not. They are by no means trivial and it is far from clear that they would be as cheap as you seem to think.

          Do not get me wrong, I am much in favor of an early lunar return and wish I could believe in a magic way to achieve it on the cheap (to avoid the need for political support that is sadly not their). It is just that I am (also sadly) skeptical.

          • Robert Clark says:

            I was being brief in my response there. The Early Lunar Access plan as described in the early 90′s used the shuttle and Titan IV because they were available then. But it only needed to get 52 metric tons to LEO.
            By 2017, we’ll have the Falcon Heavy, Delta IV Heavy, Ariane 5 ME, and the SLS. The Falcon Heavy and SLS could do it in a single launch, including carrying the crew.
            The Delta IV Heavy and Ariane 5 ME could do it in two launches, plus an additional launch of a man-rated launcher to carry the crew capsule with the crew to LEO.
            If done with the Falcon Heavy with its estimated $120 million launch cost, it’s possible it could be done for only a few hundred million dollars per launch.

            Bob Clark

          • Joe says:

            Bob,

            I am going to skip debating what launch vehicles will be available in 2017 at what capabilities and what prices for two reasons: (1) I am burned out on going over the Space X promises vs. Space performance issues over and over again (if you choose to believe that Space X will sell launches – of the currently nonexistent – Falcon Heavy for less than they charge the on the CRS contract for first iteration Falcon 9 launches that is your privilege). (2) I suspect Paul Spudis might (understandably, in my opinion) not allow the discussion.

            I will talk a little about payload mass. The 52 Ton figure comes from the point (according to your article) before “ELA also ran into problems when NASA subsequently discovered that General Dynamics had underestimated the weight of the Lunar Exploration Vehicle.” That is not uncommon in in early estimates of new vehicle development.

            To return to the original topic of this article, the Asteroid capture vehicle (according to the Keck study) is to be launched on a single Atlas V 551 (maximum LEO payload 29.4 tons). That means that the initial vehicle mass in LEO would be about 6% of the asteroid at a maximum. Using well understood hypergolic fuel for its RCS system it would need to expend no more than 450 kg in propellant (or about 0.09% of the asteroid mass) to completely negate the roll/pitch/yaw of the Asteroid. To put it politely that will be quite a challenge.

            I would submit that if the $100 Million study is approved a likely outcome is that the vehicle will become: (1) More complex, (2) More expensive, (3) More massive. Those are engineering predictions. The likely political outcome would be as follows: (1) If the increased weight of the payload pushes it to the point where it would require use of an SLS sized vehicle, the on line Space X supporters will turn against it, (2) Due to the increased cost of the payload the current administration will abandon it in any case.

            I really do not like playing the role of being negative about this sort of thing, but that is just the way it is. Absent real political support (currently nonexistent) nothing is going to get done.

          • billgamesh says:

            “-wish I could believe in a magic way to achieve it on the cheap-”

            That would make you a mark like the rest of those falling for the private space flim flam.

          • Joe says:

            billgamesh says: April 16, 2013 at 6:19 am

            You seem to have missed the point where I said: “wish I could”

          • libs0n says:

            Joe said:

            “(if you choose to believe that Space X will sell launches – of the currently nonexistent – Falcon Heavy for less than they charge the on the CRS contract for first iteration Falcon 9 launches that is your privilege). ”

            The CRS price isn’t for just the launch vehicle, it includes a spacecraft as well. The cost of just a Falcon 9 launch alone would be lower. The Falcon Heavy cost would be just the cost of launch alone.

            They also have to be price competitive with the EELV rockets and the foreign GEO market launchers to win business.

          • Joe says:

            And it is your privilege to believe whatever you want about Space X as well.

  13. billgamesh says:

    “-a tacit admission that the original plan to send humans on a multi-month sojourn to a distant NEA is not feasible.”

    The only multi-month sojourn possible without a large spaceship (or the protection of low earth orbit) is to a lunar crater that can fairly quickly be turned into a radiation sanctuary- and have access to water by way of lunar ice.

    The politicians making these decisions must be either very ignorant of the requirements of human spaceflight or are being lied to by their science advisors- or both.

    Chemical propulsion is appropriate for only one place- cislunar space. Nuclear propulsion is inappropriate for only one place- inside Earth’s magnetosphere. The Moon is only place to get water for shielding and the only place to assemble, test, and launch any nuclear mission.

    It only takes a good powerpoint and someone equally good at explaining technical details to laymen; our leadership is either not getting these basic facts of space travel explained to them or they are being lied to.

  14. JohnG says:

    It’s unfortunate that we are going to spend $100 million from American taxpayers to keep people at JPL employed, working on a dumb ‘study’ of a dumb idea that will cost $3-4 billion to actually implement as a mission (just looking at MSL cost history). This money could be better used to fund 20-25% of a ‘real’ IR survey telescope (total mission costs of $400-500 million) to find NEA targets that we can actually get to with humans or robots. This is a lot like putting the wagon in front of the horse. And to make things worse, this wagon is full of manure! I’m no fan of human missions to asteroids, but that is where politics is driving us-like it or not. It’s a shame that poor political decisions are being followed by poorer technical management.

  15. billgamesh says:

    http://www.space.com/20557-nasa-moon-missions-bolden.html

    We are not going anywhere.

    I did not even finish high school; I read a stack of books over the years on space and now I seem to know what our “leaders” are clueless about. They must know what they are doing. They are killing the dream.

    It is just basic facts about radiation shielding and propulsion. It is not hard to figure out that we are not going into deep space unless we have a Moonbase from which to launch missions.

    What Bolden is saying is that our space program is over. Human exploration of the solar system has been ended for the forseeable future.

    I cannot put into words how disappointed I am about this.

  16. billgamesh says:

    http://posey.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=327243

    “The Moon is our nearest celestial body, taking only a matter of days to reach,” said Rep. Bill Posey, who as a young man worked on the Apollo Program at the Kennedy Space Center. “In order to explore deeper into space—to Mars and beyond—a moon presence offers us the ability to develop and test technologies to cope with the realities of operating on an extraterrestrial surface.”

    I guess there is some hope. Even a democrat (just one) supports this plan. Maybe the trick to this whole game IS to build something in every state like the V-22 Osprey. Even Dick Cheney could not kill that monstrosity. If we have the landers and parts for the base built in all the right districts we will be on the Moon soon enough.

    But how do we get THAT ball rolling? How about that nuclear angle; who are the politicians representing the nuclear industry? And Criswell’s Lunar Solar Power; that should interest the tree huggers considering it would eliminate the entire carbon footprint of the human race on Earth. And how about that antennae field on the dark side for radio astronomy? Then there is that activity that so disgusts me; tourism on the Moon would be far more enticing than floating in a tin can taking a radiation bath. Finally there is sports. I hate to stoop to drinking out of that gutter but yes, professional sports might be interested in low gravity venues.

    Going to the Moon can be a win win for everyone; seeing as how they mention asteroid interdiction in the asteroid plan would it not be a thorn in their side to publicize how effective a Moonbase would be for launching nuclear interceptors?

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