NASA is willing to split $6 million between a maximum of 25 winning proposals for capturing an asteroid. The news was announced this past week, publicly soliciting concept ideas for alternative asteroid capture systems. Proposals are due May 5, and winners are expected to be announced July 1. Ideas are also required to come up with alternate rendezvous sensor systems, secondary payloads, feasibility studies and partnership opportunities. NASA said its immediate goal is to gather input and come up with a mission concept review by early 2015.
Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said the agency is currently in the "pre-formulation phase." Once a mission concept is nailed down, things will then move onto development and implementation. NASA is hoping to redirect the trajectory of an asteroid toward Earth, keep it in lunar orbit, and then sends crews to study it. NASA has a self-imposed deadline set for 2025, which actually isn't all that far off all things considered.
In addition to pure scientific research, sending humans (or robots) to an asteroid will give NASA the opportunity to mine. As Motherboard notes, asteroids are thought to be rich in materials such as iron, nickel, and titanium, tempering the need for humans to continue mining here on Earth. Some asteroids are even thought to contain water, carbon, hydrogen and even oxygen, giving NASA the opportunity to better understand what's really out there in the vastness of space. (Turns out there's quite a bit.)
Here's what NASA has to say about its future plans:
NASA's asteroid initiative includes two separate, but related activities: the asteroid redirect mission and the grand challenge. NASA is currently developing concepts for the redirect mission that will employ a robotic spacecraft, driven by an advanced solar electric propulsion system, to capture a small near-Earth asteroid or remove a boulder from the surface of a larger asteroid. The spacecraft then will attempt to redirect the object into a stable orbit around the moon.
Have any bright ideas? Not only could you net some cash, but you could be part of history. The private sector has already funded an asteroid-hunting telescope that's planned for launch in the next few years. All we need now is an idea on how to actually capture one.