back to article NASA: Full details on our manned ASTEROID SNATCH mission

NASA is pressing ahead with plans to capture an asteroid, pack it in an orbit around the Moon, and then send up a two-person crew to investigate and take samples, and it has released a video showing how it plans to achieve all this. Orion asteroid capture mission The two craft involved in capturing a shard of the Solar …


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  1. OzBob

    I didn't know that Iain Thomson

    was the pen-name of Jerry Bruckheimer? Stand by for Bay-hem(tm)!

    Seriously, did April 1st come late this year?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The world

      The world is spending zillions on a early warning system to help prevent these things hitting earth and causing a mass extinction, yet they want to bring one closer in than ever before?

      1. Stuart Van Onselen

        Re: The world

        No, recently an asteroid passed Earth within the orbit of our geosynchrous satellites. That's a lot closer than the moon.

      2. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

        Re: The world

        "yet they want to bring one closer in than ever before?"

        Sure. that's how we got dogs, after all. We got a small wolf, brought it into the camp and trained it to protect us from its wild brethren. I'm sure that'll work for asteroids too.

  2. Martin Budden Silver badge

    multiple spacewalks = lots of air?

    6 days of tests, I assume this will mean multiple spacewalks (probably 5), and it looks like the capsule needs to be completely refilled with air after every walk, so they will need to take a lot with them.


    1. Ged T

      Re: multiple spacewalks = lots of air?


      So, given the effort to capture an asteroid, insert it into lunar orbit, get a manned mission to the moon with multiple moon-asteroid excursions then a return to earth for the crew and samples, wouldn't it, instead, be worthwhile getting the asteroid into the same orbital path as the ISS, to allow a crew from there to explore the asteroid? To avoid thermal and atmospheric artefacts from being a factor, the mission could include a 'significant sample return' of the asteroid using the ATV or similar to examine structure and composition back on Earth...

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: multiple spacewalks = lots of air?

        "getting the asteroid into the same orbital path as the ISS"

        I think there would be safety concerns about that. Matching orbits is a tricky business, and manuevering an asteroid of undetermined size and mass in a bag will be a bit more difficult than manuevering a capsule with built-in thrusters.

      2. Bumpy Cat

        Re: multiple spacewalks = lots of air?

        The ISS is low by orbital standards. Bringing an enormous, irregularly-shaped blob of ice and dust into an orbit that low would most likely see it fall to pieces and then to earth, making a pretty light show for the people below.

        The ISS apogee is 418 km, while even a geostationary orbit is 36000 km. With an asteroid, you really want to park it far away, and the moon is ten times geostationary at about 360000, which is nice and far away but still somewhere we have gone before (and hopefully again soon).

        1. Tom 13

          Re: making a pretty light show for the people below.

          You mean HOPEFULLY making a pretty light show for the people below. There would also be a measurable chance of a Tunguska event.

  3. Don Jefe

    If there isn't oil, a habitable environment for poor people or Baby Jesus 2.0 on the asteroid it'll never get funded by the House. Although I suppose if we put a pre-signed 'Stop Obamacare' bill up there they'd spend trillions to get it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If they suggest there will be 20% of affordable housing, use of solar panels and wind turbines for power and a recycling system I'm sure a government would stump up the cash.

      As would a project that will put all the long term unemployed on a mission to colonise Mars.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Gold, gold, gold, there's gold in them there asteroids!

  4. izntmac

    So Close to the Moon Why Not Go Back?

    If they are going to get this asteroid into Lunar orbit, why not just go back to the moon? Go back to the moon and set up some kind of habitat or small base so that in case of an emergency, the astronauts have a place to go and stay of something goes wrong. Or just to have a place to stay. The US needs to resume its manned space program. The same country that sent men to the moon can't even send humans into space anymore or without hitching a ride on a Russian Soyuz. Second time in US history this has happened. Congress need to put some money into the US manned space program and it needs to have long term goals. We waited too long to replace the Space Shuttle and now we are earthbound. The US Government needs to get their priorities straight on manned pace flight.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Probably because the energy profile of the mission is a lot lower without entering the Moon's gravity well. And a lower energy profile means less fuel to lug around.

      After checking, the lunar lander had a bit less than 300kg of propellant. That does not seem much in itself, but that was for a dedicated landing module that only had to get back to the Command/Service Module (that was the module intended to bring the lander to the Moon and bring it back to Earth after).

      The lander itself was almost 5 metric tons of mass. The CSM was a bit more than 30 metric tons. So that makes for about 35 tons of mass "just" to land on the Moon.

      This mission is not concerned with a Moon landing. Adding that to the list would likely add a fair share of those 35 tons, or more, to the new mission's mass profile. Then you have the issue of bringing that mass into Earth orbit in the first place. The biggest launcher Earth has at the moment is the Ariane 5, which can lug up to 21 metric tons. So we've already lost Moon capacity, since the Saturn V rocket used for the Moon launch could bring at most 120 metric tons into orbit.

      Think of that for a minute - in the 1960s we were capable of doing 6 TIMES MORE in space than we are today. We have regressed.

      And that is why NASA is not adding a Moon landing to the list. It's not a picnic. Every new mission item has a mass budget, and we just don't have the means any more. Even if we had the money, which we don't either.

      And now, if you don't mind, I'm just going to go sob quietly in the corner over there.

      1. izntmac

        I appreciate your details in looking into the moon landing part. Sad that we could do 6 times more into orbit on a Saturn V. Seems stupid to "be so close but yet so far' from going back. Considering 2019 is the 50th anniversary of first moon landing. To lose all that capacity is sad. My turn to sob quietly in the corner. ;(!

      2. Tom 13

        Re: 6 TIMES MORE in space than we are today.

        The capability isn't completely gone. We still have the plans (yes they were unable to locate them for a while but they've been found again). We would have to spin up the manufacturing process again. But do we need to?

        Part of the reason the whole thing fell apart was that it was a race and only for national prestige. If we had gone the more prudent root of putting a proper station as the midpoint between the moon and the earth we'd probably still be up there. And no, the ISS doesn't count as a proper station either. That's just a boondoggle to international cooperation chest-beating. If it were a proper mission for something important it would be sustained without risk of killing the whole program. Sure there would still be posturing and chest thumping about peripheral issues, but the core mission would never be at risk.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Why manned?

    It's just a rocky chunk, why the big expenditure to analyze it? Does NASA have a case of 'roid love? Oh the shame of it, a once-proud manned space effort, reduced to rock-humping o'er the moon. I want my future back.

  6. Kharkov

    Powerpoint mission...

    Erm, aren't we forgetting? 1.6 BILLION dollars to launch ONE SLS (not counting the service module, which is European, or the Orion capsule or any other bits of hardware) and yes, I'm also not counting the development costs (18 BILLION dollars from FY 2012 to the end of FY 2017 and probably another 2 BILLION dollars in development costs a year thereafter)...


    A really, really, really, RE-EAH-LEE expensive mission to... look at a rock and bring back, at most, a couple of hundred kilograms.

    Sign me up now for the 'Told you so' gathering when this falls through.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Powerpoint mission...

      Expensive over many years? Yes. But compare with the 1-year budgets of others for perspective:

      Defence (including State, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs) - $618 billion.

      Health and Human Services - $78.3 billion.

      Education - $71.2 billion.

      Housing and Urban Development - $33.1 billion.

      Energy - $28.4 billion.

      Agriculture - $21.5 billion.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: Powerpoint mission...

        Yep. The US could slash 20-30% off its defence budget and still outspend every other counrty on the planet combined. The military themselves wouldn't even notice if 5% of that budget gets diverted to NASA. The problem is that these huge amounts of money aren't spent on better pay and equipment for the troops on the ground*, they're spent on more and more expensive toys that the top active generals insist that they must have, sourced of course through the retired generals on the boards of defence contractors.

        *In Iraq some troops had to buy their own bulletproof jackets. I wonder how much of that equipment could be bought at the cost of 1 F-35

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re:they're spent on more and more expensive toys

          Not even that. Most of it is legal bribes to various states to keep the necessary parts of the budget funded. My roomie works in R&D for the military. The amount of money those contractors waste is phenomenal. And that's just in Massachusetts. I actually rarely hear about problems in Virginia, which is roomie's other haunt.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Powerpoint mission...

        "Expensive over many years? Yes. But compare with the 1-year budgets of others for perspective:"

        ...and they're about to reach their "debt ceiling" of $17Tr and have about $50b in the bank.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: they're about to reach their "debt ceiling"

          Nah, that's already been breached.

          How do I know?

          Because the official number hasn't changed for entirely too long. You don't get any government numbers that rock solid unless somebody has been cooking the books.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Powerpoint mission...

        Defence (including State, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs) - $618 billion.

        Education - $71.2 billion.

        That says all that needs to be said about the priorities of the USA and why it has so many internal problems brewing.

        1. Kharkov

          Re: Powerpoint mission...

          Finding out more about the solar system? Sounds great. Spending 1.6 billion dollars to do it if that's the ONLY way to do it? Fine by me.


          Falcon Heavy, soon to enter service, 53 tonnes of payload, maximum cost of 128 million dollars.Throw 1.6 billion dollars at it and you've got FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY tonnes of payload in LEO. And 300 billion dollars in change (hire a few teachers or something). {Activate face/desk interaction routine}

          Can the world please stop wasting time looking at never-going-to-happen missions and do something productive like...

          "Today in the news, THREE asteroid missions were launched, for less than 400 million dollars, The US Defence budget was reduced to TEN PERCENT of last year's budget and it STILL spent more on Defence than China. The top five percent of the American population, owning between 50-60% of America's wealth, paid 50-60% of this years taxes..."

          Hang on, I just slipped into fantasy, didn't I? They WILL waste money, they will spend just under half the world's defence budget on US defence and the rich aren't going to be paying any taxes...

          It's my turn to cry under the table now...

          1. Beachrider

            Please get the ESA alternative going...

            I am sure that NASA would alter its approach when ESA/RSA/JSA publish their visions.

            Without those visions, NASA is left to its own situation.

            Get the ESA to fund a larger participation! The EU is a significantly larger economy than the USA!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Down

          @Alan Brown

          Doesn't count that the vast majority of education spending occurs at the state and local levels or privately.

          Also why add the State Department (foreign affairs), DHS (which includes the customs and immigration and transit security) and veterans affairs (which is entirely healthcare, job training and pensions ) with defense? It's like counting driving expenses, utility bills and cleaning supplies when you are putting together your spending on food.

      4. Tom 13

        Re: But compare with the 1-year budgets

        Yeah, I'd cut the crap out of those wastes too. But just because other parts of the government are wasting money even faster doesn't mean NASA should join in the debauchery.

    2. Crisp

      Re: A really, really, really, RE-EAH-LEE expensive mission to...

      Get a chance to discover new and wonderful things about our solar system, its origins, its history, and what it's made of.

      At that doesn't even scratch the surface of all the technology they'll be inventing to actually do it, and all the spin off technology that will inevitably come from that.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Powerpoint mission...

      " 1.6 BILLION dollars to launch ONE SLS "

      Which is about the launch cost of a shuttle, plus about as much again afterwards refurbing it for the next flight.

      Even if the asteroid was piled high with gold bars, a flight to recover them would be uneconomic - BUT if you have it where it's useful it's a lot cheaper to use it to build stuff in space than hauling it from the surface (think of all the reaction mass you can have for ion thrusters, for starters)

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    But think what a great way to go to *Mars*

    With near term launch systems you will never get the kind of radiation shielding. In that sense it is the ultimate in In Situ Resource Utilization.

    Sure it might not look very aerodynamic and the lander will need to b parked on it's backside going out but this baby would be the Mercedes S class of space transport. 5-10 metres of rock between you and any 'nad frying radiation.

    Now if NASA talked about it on that basis.....

    Thumbs up for someone (maybe) thinking they don't need a new spacecraft that masses 12x the ISS built on Earth

    Mars in our lifetime?

  8. Arachnoid

    Moon landing

    Would it not be easier to crash the asteroid into the Moon and then go collect samples?

    1. Crisp

      Re: Moon landing


      It would take less Delta V to park it in orbit, and require a less massive ship for the astronauts to go and visit it.

      (I am not an astrophysicist. Much of my knowledge of orbital mechanics has been cribbed from Kerbal Space Program.)

  9. VinceH


    "Orion gets another Lunar gravity assist for the estimated ten-day return to Earth"

    ...with samples from the asteroid. Shortly thereafter, the Zombie Apocalypse begins.

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      Re: Optional

      The Zombie Apocalypse has been running for a while now.

      See also, Congress.

  10. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    Xenon fuel?

    Perhaps I'm a pedant, but do you mean "xenon reaction mass"?

  11. Dennis Wilson


    This is nothing more than a public relations flag waving exercise for the USA and nothing more. We Don't need to do it.

    It would be cheaper to walk around planet earth picking the stuff up off the floor? We have already identified the bigger impact points and the answers would be the same.

  12. Irongut

    Looks like NASA play Kerbal Space Program. their version has beetter graphics than mine tho.

  13. DJV Silver badge

    And if that doesn't get off the ground...

    ...then we just need to wait until around the middle of the next century when the daleks will conveniently chuck rocks at us from space.

  14. Rocket City

    Pork in Spaaaaaaace

    This is insane. We're going to move a small rock from the asteroid belt, but not to Earth orbit. That would be too easy. We're moving it to the Moon's orbit. We'll do this with a robot that will be all over this small rock for years while it's moved. THEN we're going to send astronauts to lunar orbit to study this tiny rock and "take samples." NASA predicts this will cost billions of dollars, but you know the real price will be much higher. If we want to study asteroids, robotic probes (like Dawn, which is cool) could study a hundred for less than this gigantic "pork in space" farce.

  15. Ed 13

    What happens to the asteroid afterwards?

    The impression from the film was what it was left in lunar orbit?

    What's with the dreadful film score music? Some ballet music would have been better, given the process involved in celestial mechanics of large masses and small forces. Dance of the Sugar Plumb Fairy perhaps?

  16. Beachrider

    This rock will be the next Space Station...

    The reason to sample the rock is to ensure that it is suitable for use as the Deepspace 'station'. Parking it near the Moon gives NASA the option to either gravity-assist it away from Earth-Luna or to 'dump' it on the Moon if this rock is not suitable.

    They want this station to be radiation-proof and in 'clean' space.

    They also don't want to be dealing with the gravity-well of the Moon to get things in/out of their Deepspace 'station'.

    If Musk can do it cheaper, GREAT. He won't be using RP-1 rockets for much of this work, if he gets the contract.

    1. AndyS

      Re: This rock will be the next Space Station...

      What on earth are you blethering on about?

      I thought most conspiracy theorists held that the moon landing never happened. Surely then, the sort of person who talks about "They", "Deepspace 'station'" and "'clean' space" would never believe any of this is possible anyway?

      1. Tom 13

        Re: are you blethering on about?

        Actually, that's the first post here that makes sense and might move me toward supporting the project.

        Early poster with the 4 downvotes (at the time of this post) is mostly right: this is a PR stunt from NASA in a desperate attempt to garner funding. Robotic missions are cheaper and safer. Adding the manned angle on generates good PR, not knowledge. Maybe you count working the PR angle as smart. I don't. And frankly, even if it only works out to a little money each year, that just gives Congress more opportunity to fuck with the plan.

        But if part of the selection process is a rock big enough and stable enough to mine it into a space station, put engines on it, and possibly use stuff on it to drive the engines, yeah, that might work. It's high risk in the sense that you don't know what you'll get from a given rock, but the other parts are logical.

  17. novice

    re Powerpoint Mission

    Does anyone in the upper echelons of NASA/Budgetary Committees/whoever, ever read these pages/comments do you suppose? And actually if any did would they give a **** anyway! On the other hand I really want us to get out there ..... it's the "how to proposals" which perplex/sadden/enrage or even encourage optimism in us all?

  18. John 62

    Won't somebody think of the TIDES!

    By using the moon for a speedup this mission will alter the orbit of the moon around the earth, which will alter the very TIDES!

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