NASA has received more than 400 responses to its request for information (RFI) on the agency’s asteroid initiative, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced Friday.

“Under our plan, we’re increasing the identification, tracking and exploration of asteroids, and the response to this initiative has been gratifying,” said Garver, speaking at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2013 conference in San Jose, Calif. “The aerospace industry, innovative small businesses and citizen scientists have many creative ideas and strategies for carrying out our asteroid exploration mission and helping us to protect our home planet from dangerous near-Earth objects.”

Released June 18, the RFI was the first opportunity for industry and other potential partners, including private individuals, to offer ideas on planning for NASA’s mission to redirect an asteroid for exploration by astronauts and the agency’s asteroid grand challenge.

Garver noted about a third of the responses were in areas relevant to the asteroid grand challenge, which is to identify all asteroid threats to human population and know what to do about them. All other responses were related to the five mission components.

All the responses are being evaluated and rated. NASA will explore the highly rated responses for inclusion in future planning during a public workshop in September.

Grand challenges are ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination and demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology. NASA’s asteroid grand challenge will support planetary defense by use of multi-disciplinary collaborations and a variety of partnerships with other government agencies, international partners, industry, academia, and citizen scientists.

The asteroid grand challenge complements NASA’s mission to find and capture a near-Earth asteroid, redirect it to a stable lunar orbit and send humans to study it. The asteroid redirect mission is included in President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget request for NASA, and leverages the agency’s progress on its Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft and cutting-edge technology development. The mission is one step in NASA’s plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.



NASA has completed the first step toward a mission to find and capture a near-Earth asteroid, redirect it to a stable lunar orbit and send humans to study it.

In preparation for fiscal year 2014, a mission formulation review on Tuesday brought together NASA leaders from across the country to examine internal studies proposing multiple concepts and alternatives for each phase of the asteroid mission. The review assessed technical and programmatic aspects of the mission.

“At this meeting, we engaged in the critically important work of examining initial concepts to meet the goal of asteroid retrieval and exploration,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who chaired the review at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “The agency’s science, technology and human exploration teams are working together to better understand near Earth asteroids, including ones potentially hazardous to our planet; demonstrate new technologies; and to send humans farther from home than ever before. I was extremely proud of the teams and the progress they have made so far. I look forward to integrating the inputs as we develop the mission concept further.”

In addition to the internal reviews of concepts for the mission, managers also discussed the recently received more than 400 responses to a request for information in which industry, universities, and the public offered ideas for NASA’s asteroid initiative. The agency is evaluating those responses.

With the mission formulation review complete, agency officials now will begin integrating the most highly-rated concepts into an asteroid mission baseline concept to further develop in 2014.

The asteroid redirect mission is included in President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget request for NASA, and leverages the agency’s progress on its Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft and cutting-edge technology development. The mission is one step in NASA’s strategy to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.



Following are the comments on the ARRM mission concept from NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group

(8) Asteroid Redirect & Return Mission (ARRM).

(a) Planetary science. While the SBAG committee finds that there is great scientific value in sample return missions from asteroids such as OSIRIS-Rex, ARRM has been defined as not being a science mission, nor is it a cost effective way to address science goals achievable through sample return. Candidate ARRM targets are limited and not well identified or characterized. Robotic sample return missions can return higher science value samples by selecting from a larger population of asteroids, and can be accomplished at significantly less cost (as evidenced by the OSIRIS-REx mission). Support of ARRM with planetary science resources is not appropriate.

(b) Searching for Potentially Hazardous Objects. There is great value in enhancing NASA’s capabilities in small body discovery and characterization. The enhancement to NEO discovery and characterization efforts proposed as part of the Asteroid Initiative would be greater still if it were to be continued for more than one year. The discovery of smaller asteroids (i.e. potential ARRM targets) is an expected byproduct of this campaign expansion. There is concern that a focus on acquiring ARRM targets, and ARRM itself, can come at the expense of the detection rate and follow-up observations of 140m and larger asteroids.

(c) Relevance of ARRM to Planetary Defense. Given the size of the ARRM target (< 10m), ARRM has limited relevance to planetary defense. Retrieving a NEO this small only tangentially benefits planetary defense, as the stated target body may not be representative of the larger, hazardous bodies.

(d) Mission Objectives. ARRM does not have clearly defined objectives, which makes it premature to commit significant resources to its development. The mission description/objectives fidelity appears to be lower than a "selectable" Discovery mission. NASA statements that deployment of a solar power array is sufficient for mission success, but capture and return of an asteroid to lunar orbit is not, brings into serious question the importance of investment in the asteroid capture and return portion of the mission plan. Firm baseline and minimum requirements must be set in order to assess the cost-effectiveness of achieving those requirements and to assess the value of the mission with respect to exploration goals. The Mars 2020 Science Definition Team released a 150+ page document outlining the mission objectives and merits. There is little comparable justification provided with respect to ARRM, yet ARRM is expected (by some estimates) to be a higher cost mission. The SBAG finds that formation of an independent Mission Definition Team (MDT) prior to commitment of significant resources and mission confirmation would allow for community participation in the relevant fields for the mission (including small body science) and provide a non-advocate peer review of the expected benefit if mission success criteria are met. In place of science objectives and traceability, the strategic knowledge gaps (for HEOMD) and technology roadmap (for STMD) can be used to provide traceability necessary for successful mission implementation.

(e) Target issues. The population and physical characteristics of low delta-velocity targets having diameters less than 10m are poorly constrained by observations. Because of their intrinsic faintness and long synodic periods, characterization must be undertaken over a short time period primarily during the discovery apparition. Such small objects may be rapidly rotating rubble piles, which could be hazardous to spacecraft during interactions with the target object. The mission must be designed to account for these large uncertainties in the properties of potential targets, which could greatly increase the complexity and cost of the mission. It is impractical to begin the planning and design of any mission to capture such an asteroid in the absence of a pre-existing study on the population and the physical characteristics of its members. Such a study would necessarily take a number of years if commenced now, assuming it is adequately resourced. A robust characterization campaign is imperative. Target characterization will be challenging and is expected to be of the utmost importance to mission success.

(f) Schedule risks. Because of long-synodic periods, a missed launch window will not be recoverable for the same ARRM target. Therefore, multiple targets meeting orbital and physical characteristic requirements and having appropriately phased launch windows will need to be discovered. Given the poor knowledge of the population of these objects, this is a significant mission risk. The stated schedule for the ARRM, which posits funding of a ~$100M study in FY14 and launch in 2017, is unrealistic.

(g) Cost risks. As a mission that serves as a technology and operations demonstrator, the management approach and acceptance of risk needs to be better defined to determine the feasibility of the aggressive schedule and its impact on cost and mission success criteria. The full-cost target, funding profile, and funding sources are not provided and limit any credible assessment of the schedule and mission cost to the various directorates. Lack of clarity of both resources available and resources required limits any determination of mission value, merit, and/or whether the mission is the most efficient use of available resources to achieve NASA’s objectives.


Planetary Defense Conference 2013

AIAA White Paper from the PDC is now available.

Here is the web link for Conference papers, posters and presentations.

Summary and Recommendations: Over 200 experts from around the world participated in the 2013 IAA Planetary Defense Conference; a meeting that concluded with a tabletop exercise exposed participants to a realistic asteroid warning and impact scenario and asked that they develop responses to the threat from multiple perspectives. Recommendations arising from this experience are below.

Discovery: Discovery remains the most critical aspect of planetary defense. We have discovered only a small percentage of the objects that could destroy a city or cause severe regional destruction, and such an object could enter our atmosphere today with little or no warning. Necessary tools that include space-based survey systems such as that proposed by the B612 Foundation, enhanced ground-based systems such as Pan-STARRS, and upgrades to radars that will improve precise tracking and measurements of an object’s size, rotation, and other factors that inform the design and execution of deflection efforts. UN efforts to formalize cooperative interactions among nations to improve observation and discovery capability should be supported.

Characterization: Research is increasing our understanding of the types of structures and materials that might be encountered by deflection/disruption missions and the responses to kinetic impact and other deflection/disruption efforts. This work will increase confidence in the success of deflection/disruption missions and potentially limit the number of launches required to achieve the desired result.

Verification of our ability to move an asteroid: Missions are being proposed that would use kinetic impactors to move an asteroid, and the impact and motion away from the original path would be verified by observer spacecraft. Designing these missions and developing the necessary tools and payloads for these types of actions would verify model predictions and build confidence in our abilities to deal with an actual threat.

Disaster mitigation: Tabletop exercises for limited audiences are demonstrating the effectiveness of these exercises in making people aware of the unique aspects of asteroid threats and where work needs to be done. Exercises involving disaster response agencies at the local, state, national and international level would help these agencies be prepared for disasters that might be caused by asteroid impacts.

Being Prepared: Atmospheric entries of NEOs of sufficient size to cause serious damage are rare on human time scales, but the need for an active deflection/disruption response could occur at any time. The challenge is to develop response plans and to put cost effective procedures in place to preserve technologies and capabilities necessary for a response. For example, algorithms that can guide a spacecraft moving at 10s of km/sec relative to an approaching asteroid must be made available and tested prior to when they are needed, as must the thruster and other hardware necessary to execute the algorithms’ commands. Procedures should be developed that will maintain a catalog of necessary equipment and tools and assure that these capabilities are tested and verified as part of other missions. Similarly, current procedures for launching spacecraft should be examined to see what can be done to make it possible to reprogram an existing launch vehicle and mount and launch a new payload quickly. Potentially, a low level build-up of an effective planetary defense capability over time could be done with modest sustained annual investment. Public education and outreach programs also contribute to readiness and preparedness for NEO threats.

International efforts: Planetary defense is an international responsibility and current efforts at the United Nations to provide opportunities for space agencies to begin to plan for shared responsibilities and coordinated actions should be supported. Bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements will also be necessary as part of the overall coordination of resources and capability.

Communications: The Planetary Defense Conference exercise and the exercise recently conducted by NASA and FEMA helped solidify the importance of developing and moving forward on an overall coordination and communication plan for planetary defense related topics. Information on the nature of a NEO threat, possible deflection/disruption options, the evolution of a threat scenario, risk and uncertainty, and credible tools for simple deflection mission design should be added to currently available authoritative web pages.

NEO News is an informal compilation of news and opinion dealing with Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and their impacts. These opinions are the responsibility of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of NASA, Ames Research Center, the International Astronomical Union, or any other organization. For additional information, please see the website If anyone wishes to copy or redistribute original material from these notes, fully or in part, please include this disclaimer.

Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI Staff
Source: David Morrison/ NASA

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