A new report chartered by NASA provides input to important areas of robotic mission requirements development and explores the science benefits and potential knowledge gain from the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). NASA will visit an asteroid boulder during the Proving Ground phase of its journey to Mars in cislunar space – the volume of space around the moon featuring multiple stable staging orbits for future deep space missions.
Data from the Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) report will help with the development and design of the robotic portion of the mission, spacecraft, and boulder capture. The report answers questions posed by engineers developing requirements, including the origins of the reference “parent” asteroid from which a multi-ton boulder will be collected, boulder spatial and size distributions, geotechnical properties, robotic handling of the selected boulder, and crew safety and containment considerations.
Also included in the report are investigations that could provide additional benefit from the mission, through potentially partner provided sensors, subsystems, or candidate operations. The work of the FAST focused on science, planetary defense, asteroidal resources and in-situ resource utilization, and capability and technology demonstrations. The expert team’s priorities were put into categories based on their benefits and relevance to ARM and NASA goals.
“We received really comprehensive responses to all of the questions we posed to the FAST,” said Dr. Michele Gates, ARM program director. “The findings in this report have been particularly helpful as we develop requirements and system design for the robotic spacecraft. We’ve learned a lot about the asteroid’s characteristics, which will be important for the capture system that will collect the asteroid and even for handling and containment techniques that the astronauts will have to practice before sampling it.”
NASA issued a membership call to the public last year to create the FAST and draft the report. The ARM FAST consisted of primarily non-NASA participants who participated in requirement formulation efforts during the initial development phase of the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM). The agency ultimately selected 18 engineers and scientists out of 100 applicants from academia and industry to work with three NASA leaders on the report.
“We had originally planned to select approximately 12-15 members for the FAST,” said Dan Mazanek, Senior Space Systems Engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia and ARM Mission Investigator. “However, due to the large number of exceptionally qualified applicants and the diversity needed to support the ARRM Requirements Closure TIM, we decided to expand the team to a total of 18 members.”
NASA released a draft of the report in November 2015 for public comment before finalizing the report.
“The asteroid community’s response to the membership call was astounding,” said Gates. “We’ve made a conscientious effort over the past few years to encourage external participation in this mission, and this FAST is a brilliant result of those efforts. It is remarkable that the team was able to collaborate at such a rapid pace and provide us with the many valuable inputs we received.”
As the first mission to robotically capture an asteroid mass and deliver it to an orbit around the moon where astronauts can investigate it, the Asteroid Redirect Mission uniquely transcends and combines traditional robotic and human exploration mission formulation processes. This coupling has garnered significant interest from the science and human exploration communities, allowing NASA to leverage the world’s top scientific and engineering minds throughout the planning of the ARM and the journey to Mars.
Read the Report: Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) Final Report