In a push to test technologies for man’s attempt to travel to Mars, NASA launched the next steps to its Asteroid initiative, the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).
In the mid-2020s, an autonomous, robotic spacecraft will be sent out to pick up a boulder from a near-earth asteroid and put it into lunar orbit for exploration by astronauts. The mission is also expected to present viable solutions to redirecting potentially dangerous near-earth asteroids.
By 2019, astronauts on the Orion Spacecraft will have explored and chosen an asteroid for the redirect mission. NASA’s Asteroid Initiative has increased detection of near-earth asteroids by 65%—there are now 1,472 candidate asteroids for ARM.
Several burgeoning technologies to undergo testing could facilitate travel deep into our solar system and to Mars. For instance, the new Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) technology is expected to lead to lightweight and efficient spacecrafts, capable of long journeys.
Watch a video on electric propulsion, courtesy of Engineering TV, below:
To redirect a near-earth asteroid, NASA is creating a SEP spacecraft that creates a halo orbit around the top portion of the asteroid. The orbit is calculated so that gravitational interaction between the spacecraft and the asteroid causes it to redirect its trajectory from our precious planet. This technique is also called a “gravity tractor,” because it uses gravity to move an asteroid without physical contact.
Being such an extensive mission, there’s a wealth of data regarding ARM. Get pictures, info, and videos here.