Landing on an Asteroid

There are some problems with a mission to “land” on an asteroid:

  • Space shuttle not available – the space shuttle is due for retirement and even if it could be pulled out of mothballs, it is unlikely that it would be capable of making an asteroid rendezvous. The shuttle was designed for orbital missions and may not be able to handle the extended burns to get out to an asteroid, back and the re-entry requirements. A much larger craft and/or propulsion system will be needed to reach an asteroid, just as we used a Saturn V rocket to reach the Moon.
  • Time length of the trip – depending on where the asteroid is scheduled to be intercepted, the trip is likely to take months, instead of the weeks that the Apollo Moon missions took. This raises issues of radiation protection, oxygen, water and food supplies and more.
  • “Landing” is not likely – most asteroids don’t have enough gravity to allow a conventional braking descent kind of landing. The craft making the voyage will need to make some kind of parking maneuver and astronaut exploration will be like space walks, requiring small thruster jets and perhaps tethers for safety.
  • Political and financial obstacles are likely to be more difficult than the technical ones – with four presidential elections between now and 2025, and a looming fiscal crisis, maintaining the budget to fund this will be a hazardous mission.

Landing on an asteroid: Not quite like in the movies – [physorg.com]

Millions of miles from Earth, two astronauts hover weightlessly next to a giant space rock, selecting pebbles for scientific research. The spaceship where they’ll sleep floats just overhead. Beyond it, barely visible in the sky, is a glittering speck. It’s Earth.

It sounds like a science-fiction movie, but this surreal scene could, if President Barack Obama has his way, become a reality. However, unlike Hollywood depictions in such movies as “Armageddon,” it’s going to be a lot harder to pull off.

from 2008:
Closer encounter: Nasa plans landing on 40m-wide asteroid travelling at 28,000mph – [guardian.co.uk]

In a study due to be published next month, engineers at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston and Ames Research Centre in California flesh out plans to use Orion for a three to six month round-trip to the asteroid, with astronauts spending a week or two on the rock’s surface.

As well as giving space officials a taste of more complex missions, samples taken from the rock could help scientists understand more about the birth of the solar system and how best to defend against asteroids that veer into Earth’s path.

SEE ALSO:
Hayabusa Returns
…other topics in Space Exploration

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