Way to go Lori...NASA is really hitting it out of the park this week, what a sudden turn around! Let's hope they perceive the relevance of Asteroids and space industrialization and planetary defense and keep at it!
Garver: NASA to Seek Private Sector Partnership on Asteroid Retrieval Mission
By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor
NASA will partner with private organizations seeking to catalog and mine asteroids as the space agency undertakes an ambitious effort to retrieve one of these bodies and send astronauts to explore it, Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told planetary scientists on Monday.
“When Planetary Resources was founded a few month ago and following on that Deep Space Industries, I could not have been happier,” Garver said, referring to two asteroid mining companies announced last year. “It’s proving our focus of attention on areas where there is not just U.S. government interest.”
Speaking on the first day of the Planetary Defense Conference in Flagstaff, Ariz., Garver said NASA would conduct a workshop in the June time frame to determine how the space agency can cooperate with private sector initiatives and best leverage its investment in asteroid research and deep-space exploration technologies.
“The identification aspect of this, in particular, should be done through things like data buys, taking advantage of cooperative research agreements, Space Act Agreements, prizes,” she said. “We believe there are lots of innovative ways, just like we are doing in other aspects of NASA….We know that NASA’s role uniquely is to drive the technology, help to drive risk down risk actually so others can go further.”
NASA already has an unfunded Space Act Agreement with the B612 Foundation, a private organization that is building a space telescope designed to find and track asteroids that could threaten Earth.
“If anything, folks who are considering investing in B612 should see this as an incredibly positive step that the U.S. government is stepping up, taking this seriously, this data will be needed,” Garver said. “And we’re going to look for more innovative ways to leverage our investment to help them and other private sector entities advance our goals.”
Garver’s appearance at the Planetary Defense Conference corresponded with the third anniversary of President Barack Obama’s announcement that the nation would send astronauts to an asteroid.
“The President challenged us three years ago to do that, lots of you worked tirelessly to find a way to be able to achieve that goal by 2025 which is what he challenged us to do, and this is really the culmination of that effort is to be able to present this program in this budget, she said. “This is a very exciting time.”
NASA has requested $105 million in its FY 2014 budget to begin work on the asteroid retrieval mission, which would occur in the early 2020′s. The funding request includes an additional $20 million for finding asteroids, $38 million for technology demonstration work, and $40 million for developing a capture system, Garver said.
The NASA deputy administrator noted that the Obama Administration has already quintupled the nation’s investment in finding asteroids in order to detect ones that could threaten Earth. The funding was previously at $4 million and is now at $20 million, a figure that the FY 2014 budget would double.
The asteroid retrieval mission aligns many of NASA’s programs and would further the goals of scientific exploration, economic development and planetary protection.
Quoting astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the NASA deputy administrator said that government fund space missions for three reasons: fear, greed and glory. “NASA does all three,” Garver said.
Original plans called for sending astronauts to visit an asteroid using the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. The new mission, unveiled last week, would return a small asteroid to a stable orbit in the vicinity of Earth, where astronauts would visit it and return samples in the 2021-23 time frame.
“It takes the risky part of the mission away from the human spaceflight part, which is excellent,” she said. “It allows you to do that in a way that is very innovative. And we think it’s really part of what NASA was set up to do. We absolutely believe that overall, to the asteroid community, that this is of benefit.”
NASA’s mission is closely aligned with the Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study published in April 2012 by the Keck Institute for Space Studies. Garver said additional work has been done over the past year to develop the mission plan.
An attendee at the Planetary Defense Conference questioned how easy it would be to capture a fast-moving asteroid and move it to a stable orbit near Earth by 2021.
“It turns out we do risky things at NASA,” Garver responded. “Do we do these things because they’re easy? We do not. And, of course, we recognize a lot of challenges.”
Find an in-depth discussion of the retrieval mission by Jeff Foust here:
“While getting points for creativity, a proposed NASA mission to ‘lasso’ an asteroid and drag it to the Moon’s orbit will require serious deliberation,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, the day the budget proposal was released. “Seemingly out of the blue, this mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community and has not received the scrutiny that a normal program would undergo.”
In an April 17 hearing on the overall federal R&D budget proposal, Smith pressed John Holdren, director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, why such a mission was included in the budget, particularly given the lack of enthusiasm for a human asteroid mission identified in a recent National Research Council report on NASA’s strategic direction (see “What’s the purpose of a 21st century space agency?”, The Space Review, December 17, 2013).
“I think the situation has changed in a number of important respects since the National Research Council report which you quote,” Holdren responded. What’s changed, he said, is that NASA has developed “an extraordinarily ingenious and cost-effective new approach to that mission” by bringing an asteroid close to Earth. “Now we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm for it.”
NASA’s interest in redirecting an asteroid comes after the announcement of two new companies in the last year, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, established to prospect and eventually extract resources from near Earth asteroids. Officials from both companies expressed hope that NASA would be willing to work with them on ways to involve the commercial sector in any asteroid capture mission.
“We’re looking forward to a partnership with NASA. There’s a lot the private sector can bring to this game,” Rick Tumlinson, chairman of the board of Deep Space Industries, said at the Space Access ’13 conference in Phoenix on April 11. “A correctly structured program to bring an asteroid into lunar orbit may be based on the COTS [Commercial Orbital Transportation Services] model, where we had a cooperative venture leading to a pay-for-services model. It might work very well in this case.”
“The US government’s investment in this area could be leveraged by commercial industry in a number of ways, from supporting the mission to identify, characterize, and, depending on the type of asteroid retrieved, develop ways to understand, extract, and utilize the resources from it once returned,” said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, in a statement April 10.
Speaking at the Planetary Defense Conference in Flagstaff on April 15, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver expressed an openness to working with such companies as part of NASA’s overall asteroid initiative. “When Planetary Resources was founded a few months ago, and following on that Deep Space Industries, I could not have been happier” because it demonstrated there was interest in asteroids beyond NASA, she said.
Garver said NASA would hold a workshop in the “June timeframe” to look how to best leverage the NASA investment and that the agency was open to tools like data buys and prizes to get information on identifying asteroids that could be potential targets of the proposed NASA mission. “We believe there are a lot of innovative ways, just like we are doing in other aspects of NASA” to support agency goals, she said.
Plenty of Press on the Planetary Defense Conference:
Scientists, engineers, and policymakers gathered to discuss initiatives to protect the planet in the event of a large asteroid impact at the 3rd International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference (PDC2013), in Flagstaff, Arizona, from April 15 to 19.
"As the Chelyabinsk impact demonstrated, asteroid impacts happen; they are dangerous, destructive, with no regard for human life," said Bill Nye
Lu added that the technology to deflect asteroids away from the planet exists, but can not be used unless we actually know where the asteroid is to begin with.
"Most troubling to me is the fact that of the up to 20,000 asteroids that could be labeled as 'city destroyers', we have identified only 10 percent. And we are unlikely to have the means to detect 90 percent until 2030," Lu said in a statement.
"NASA has not even come close to finding and tracking the 1 million smaller asteroids that might only wipe out a city," Lu said. "We can protect the Earth from asteroid impacts, but we can't do it if we don't know where the asteroids are."