NASA has announced on Wednesday that it has decided on sending a spacecraft to the Moon, which would extract a boulder from it and then stay in its orbit, to serve as a testing basis for future human based exploration of more distant targets.
This sets the future direction of its announced Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which would have a manned space mission interact with a celestial body situated in the Moon’s orbit during the 2020’s. The purpose of the mission revolves around testing and experimenting with these kinds of interactions for upcoming exploration of asteroids, satellites and even planets.
At this state, the first phase of ARM will have an unmanned spacecraft sent to the Moon in 2020, which will have to select and extract a small boulder from its surface within three years, and then remain in its orbit. After that, a 2025 manned mission on NASA’s future Orion spacecraft will have astronauts link with the original craft and interact with the boulder, analyzing it on board and sending back data to the space agency’s headquarters.
This will help NASA analyze possible scenarios and technologies that will be involved in exploring celestial bodies both bigger and further away, with the ultimate aim of having a manned craft sent to Mars in the 2030’s. The original unmanned spacecraft will also incorporate technology untested until now, such as a propulsion system that relies on solar panels, which might prove way more viable in long-distance missions than the current chemical fuel-based propulsion.
Extracting a boulder from the Moon was considered a more viable option by mission planners than the other option of capturing a real near-Earth small asteroid and sending it into our satellite’s orbit, both cost and risk-wise. The Moon option also gives researchers at the space agency the occasion to test out a robotic claw on the spacecraft, which wasn’t included in the asteroid plan. It will also provide a basis for testing out methods in which a spacecraft might deflect asteroids that are on course to crash into the Earth
However, the mission’s start date is still some way ahead, so its details might incur changes until it is set to commence in December 2020.
Image Source: Spaceflightnow