Asteroid Exploration Mission Concept:There are four governing assumptions for this mission.

  1. The NASA mission to an asteroid will be modified to become an international mission involving at least the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian space agency (ROSCOSMOS) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), and NASA.  NASA will be the host and lead agency, but all member agencies will take part in all aspects of the mission profile; including exploration goals and parameters.
  2. The mission will utilize a joint astronaut/astrobot team with the astrobot being the exploratory vehicle that is actually launched onto the asteroid.
  3. The selected asteroid will be from three candidates of a grouping of 44 selected by NASA. The three finalist candidate asteroids remain to be selected.
  4. The actual intercept and contact with the selected asteroid will culminate in a docking maneuver that will allow the transfer of the rover onto the asteroid.  No landing operations onto the asteroid are planned.

The Astrobot:

Mars Science Rover - Curiosity

The design of the astrobot will be the joint activity of NASA/JPL and JAXA. JPL’s unique and considerable expertise and experience with the design and operation of the Mars rovercraft makes them the prime design team. Japan’s equally profound design and development experience in robotics makes them an ideal design team member. This arrangement further cements the international theme of this mission.

Although NASA’s new Robonaut concept is an important breakthrough in the linking of robots with astronaut teams, a rover type robotic device similar to the Mars Science Rover, Curiosity,  is considered the better choice for this mission.  In addition to including the majority of the science instrumentation and analyses devices on Curiosity, the Astrobot will have a newly developed direct communications link with its astronaut partner. Additionally the Astrobot will be equipped with deep drilling capabilities and other assessment tools that are specific to the exploration of the asteroid.  The overall international team will make recommendations for the added assessment tools.

The Astrobot will be retrievable. It will not be left behind upon the end of the mission.  Its data analysis and storage systems will differ somewhat, but will also keep the ability to fully send all data should it become impossible to retrieve the rover.  Most importantly, through the interaction of robot and astronaut, the astronaut will have prime mission control over the exploration’s scope. Part of that will depend upon early asteroid terrain assessments, but overall program activity will follow a set research plan developed during mission planning. Astronaut and Astrobot will actually converse during the mission. This will be another significant step forward in the concept of joint astronaut/robot space exploration missions.

Finally, depending upon the actual orbital and rotational behaviors of the asteroid, the spacecraft may undock after transferring the Astrobot onto the asteroid and go into an orbit, if possible.  In this case, the spacecraft will redock with the asteroid to retrieve the rover at the end of the mission. The program; however, anticipates that the spacecraft will remain docked with the asteroid for the duration of the project.


Notes: The complexity of this mission requires that we add two more parts to this blog series. Part IV will present our concept for the spacecraft, the astronaut profile and the mission’s initial launch vehicle. Part V will discuss some of the mission goals and will present our expected benefits from this program.  A full summary of this blog series will also be included in Part V.

Credit: The image of the Mars Science Rover – Curiosity is courtesy of NASA. The image does not depict the final design or configuration of the rover.

Explore posts in the same categories: Deep Space Explorations, Humankind and Exploration, Robotic Exploration, Scientific Research

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