Congress to Prez: “Kiss My Asteroid”

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Congress Give’s President ARM the Finger

What may ultimately go down as one of the the strangest and most half-hearted space policy proposals in American history is finally just going down.

As spacepolicyonline reports in its usual excruciating detail, a Congressional committee has essentially de-funded the Obama Administration’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM. Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which recommended a $19.5 billion dollar NASA budget, but stripped funding for kludged-together ARM concept which never garnered much support after it was proposed in 2010.

As originally conceived, the mission would have seen astronauts visit a near Earth asteroid in 2025, as a somewhat debatable step on what later became the nation’s “Journey to Mars.” As it turned out however, the mission concept was actually much more demanding than it might appear at first glance, requiring NASA to develop among other items, a deep space habitat module to supplement the Orion spacecraft’s 21 day, four person crew capacity. Even finding a cooperative asteroid which offered realistically achievable flight times proved problematic as well, further imperiling the proposal.

In a creative, if perhaps all too clever pivot, NASA then morphed the asteroid visit into an asteroid re-direct, suggesting that if actually going to an asteroid  with a crew was problematic, then it could instead bring an asteroid, albeit a very, very small one, to near Earth space, where astronauts in the ever ready Orion would go take a look, thereby satisfying the operative word “visit.”

Unfortunately for the mission’s shrinking list of proponents, the new concept called for a highly complicated and completely untested asteroid capture, bag and drag maneuver to be carried out in deep space space and work on the first try. And still there was the issue of finding an appropriate space rock, one which offered the appropriate mass range and favorably slow tumble rate in addition to its other requirements.

Hedging its bets even further, mission planners then began to consider an alternate proposal, one which was finally diminished to the point the odds of success looked better, if not to altogether certain. Now, an automated spacecraft would be dispatched to the chosen asteroid, which was still by the way proving to be problematical, and rather than bringing the entire body back to near Earth space, would instead “land” and pluck a largish rock off the asteroid and bring it back into the local neighborhood. The one element nearly everyone could agree was useful, larger scale solar electrical propulsion would get a good demonstration, and the President’s objective would still be fulfilled.

Except now, it won’t. But a previous President’s might.

As part of the language which accompanied the bill, the House Appropriations Committee for the first time specified a new stepping stone on the way to the Red Planet, telling the space agency to “develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles.”

Let the fun begin.

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5 Comments on "Congress to Prez: “Kiss My Asteroid”"

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  1. Keith Pickering says:

    Going back to the Moon should be a no-brainer as a transition to going anywhere beyond there. So kudos for someone in Congress for finally waking up to that.

    However, in the very long-term, asteroid redirect can be a very useful technology. For example, it can be used to alter the Earth’s orbit, perhaps just enough to move us out of the way of a Sun expanding to red-giant phase.

    • Ben says:

      Just the matter of scale makes the ARM in no way helpful for “moving the earth out of the way”.

      Also it will be Billions of years until the Sun becomes a Red Giant. Do you really think humans (assuming we still exist) will care what was done a billion years ago?!?

      A few thousand years ago we barely had civilization. A million years ago there weren’t even humans. A billion years ago there wasn’t even life on land.

      I would be incredibly surprised it in a billion years there were humans with intact records (of any sort) from now.

  2. Water extracted from polar lunar ice resources could be used to provide astronauts headed for Mars orbit from EML1(Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1) with water for: washing, drinking, food preparation, the production of air, radiation shielding, and propellant (LOX/LH2).

    But NASA will have to– fully embrace– the utilization of propellant manufacturing water depots and in order to fully exploit the enormous advantages of lunar ice resources for interplanetary travel.


  3. PK Sink says:

    “Let the fun begin.”

  4. Art says:

    Well good for the House Appropriations Committee. Now the question arises,”Did the Committee appropriate funds for the lunar ascent/descent vehicles & other lunar surface infrastructure?” If they didn’t, then, it’s 2010 all over again.

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