NASA mulls plan to drag asteroid into moon’s orbit

January 3, 2013

Asteroid (credit: NEAR Project, NLR, JHUAPL, Goddard SVS, NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

NASA is mulling over a plan to build a robotic spacecraft to grab a small asteroid and place it in high lunar orbit, according to researchers with the Keck Institute for Space Studies in California.

The mission would cost about $2.6 billion and could be completed by the 2020s, New Scientist reports.

The Obama administration has said it also wants to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid. One proposed target, chosen because of its scientific value and favourable launch windows for a rendezvous, is a space rock called 1999 AO10.

The mission would take about half a year, exposing astronauts to long-term radiation beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field and taking them beyond the reach of any possible rescue.

Robotically bringing an asteroid to the moon instead would be a more attractive first step, the Keck researchers conclude, because an object orbiting the moon would be in easier reach of robotic probes and maybe even humans.