Asteroid Retrieval Mission Study

September 27-30, 2011
California Institute of Technology - Pasadena, CA 91125

Workshop Overview:

Read the Wired Science article about the opening workshop and the mention in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

An Asteroid Retrieval Mission Study was conducted to investigate the feasibility of finding, characterizing, robotically capturing, and returning an entire Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) to the vicinity of the Earth for scientific investigation, evaluation of its resource potential, determination of its internal structure and other aspects important for planetary defense activities, and to serve as a possible testbed for human operations at an asteroid. The study team evaluated different mission concepts and destinations for the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) including the Lagrange points (Earth-Moon L1/L2/L4/L5 or Sun-Earth L2) as well as other Earth orbits. The asteroid will be 2-5 meter in diameter.

Moving an asteroid is a huge idea – never has a celestial object been moved by humans. It is a huge idea, but not an impossible one. A recent study at JPL has already shown possible feasibility to move a small asteroid, with a mass of ~10,000 kg, deep into the Earth's gravity well – even to the orbit of the International Space Station.

The study considered technology requirements for a potential asteroid retrieval in the following areas:

  • Astrodynamics: both low-thrust trajectory optimization and low-energy transfers (exploiting the so-called Space Manifold Dynamics)
  • Robotics: capturing and moving a large object - this has applications to orbit debris and even spent satellite removal in Earth orbit
  • Discovery and observation of smaller Near-Earth Asteroids
  • Human and robotic mission design, including the synergy between them:  If the small NEA will be moved to a Lagrange point, stepping stones for human exploration into the solar system can be literally created: in case the asteroid destination is the Sun-Earth L2, then a subsequent human mission to the asteroid at this location could be the first crewed mission to deep space
  • Planetary defense:  developing technologies that can mitigate the threat of a putative Near-Earth Object being discovered on a likely impact trajectory toward Earth
  • Characterization and utilization of asteroid resources.

Workshop Participants:

  • Carl C Allen, NASA Johnson Space Center
  • David C Baughman, Naval Postgraduate School
  • Julie Bellerose, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Bruce Betts, The Planetary Society
  • John R Brophy, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Mike E Brown, Caltech
  • Michael W Busch, UCLA
  • Fred E Culick, Caltech
  • John Dankanich, Gray Research
  • Paul E Dimotakis, Caltech
  • Martin Elvis, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
  • Louis Friedman, The Planetary Society
  • Ian Garrick-Bethell, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Bob Gershman, JPL
  • Tom D Jones, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
  • Damon Landau, JPL
  • Chris Lewicki, Arkyd Astronautics, Inc.
  • John S. Lewis, University of Arizona
  • Pedro Llanos, University of Southern California/JPL
  • Dan Mazanek - NASA Langley Research Center
  • Prakhar Mehrotra, Caltech
  • Joe A Nuth, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Kevin Parkin, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Rusty L Schweickart, B612 Foundation
  • Guru Singh, JPL
  • Nathan J Strange, The Planetary Society
  • Brian H. Wilcox, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Lt. Col. Willie B. Williams, NASA/JSC
  • Colin P. Williams, JPL
  • Don K Yeomans, JPL

Short Course Presentations

Bill Ailor
The Aerospace Corporation

Planetary Defense
(pdf) (video)
Companion videos:
Asteroid Discovery (135 MB Quicktime)
Fireball (1 MB MPEG)
Police Video (14.3 MB AVI)

John Brophy

Summary of Previous Study & SEP Technology
(pdf) (video)

Tom Jones
Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition

Human Exploration
(pdf) (video)

Damon Landau

Low-Thrust SEP Trajectories
(pdf) (video)

John Lewis
University of Arizona

Resource Potential of NEAs
(pdf) (video)

Marco Tantardini
The Planetary Society

Low delta-V Trajectories
(pdf) (video)

Brian Wilcox

Capturing Non-Cooperative Objects
(pdf) (video)

Don Yeomans

Discovery of Small NEAs
(pdf) (video)