This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

16 March 2007

NASA's Current Discovery Class of Spacecraft and More on the OSIRIS Mission (Sample Return from a NEO)

The Discovery class of missions are smaller spacecraft programs (under ~US$500M total cost) at NASA. There are competitive selections. The current round has several interesting NEO missions (a down-select will occur sometime in 2007).

Selections from NASA press releases [and more about the OSIRIS mission concept]...

NASA may select one or more investigations to continue into a development effort after detailed review of the concept studies. Decisions about which mission concepts will proceed to development are expected next year...New missions will receive $1.2 million to conduct concept studies. If selected for continuation beyond the concept phase, each project must complete its mission, including archiving and analyzing data, for less than $425 million....Missions of opportunities will receive $250,000 to conduct concept studies. If selected for continuation, each mission of opportunity must complete its project, including data archive and analysis, for less than $35 million.

Three missions were selected for concept studies:

-- The Origins Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security (OSIRIS) mission would survey an asteroid and provide the first return of asteroid surface material samples to Earth. Michael Drake of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is OSIRIS's principal investigator. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., would manage the project.

-- The Vesper mission is a Venus chemistry and dynamics orbiter that would advance our knowledge of the planet's atmospheric composition and dynamics. Gordon Chin of Goddard is Vesper's principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

-- The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission would use high-quality gravity field mapping of the moon to determine the moon's interior structure. Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., is GRAIL's principal investigator. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., would manage the project.

The three missions of opportunity selected for concept studies are:

-- The Deep Impact eXtended Investigation of Comets (DIXI) mission would use the existing Deep Impact spacecraft for an extended flyby mission to a second comet to take pictures of its nucleus to increase our understanding of the diversity of comets. Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, College Park, Md., is DIXI's principal investigator.

-- The Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh) mission would use the high-resolution camera on the Deep Impact spacecraft to search for the first Earth-sized planets detected around other stars. L. Drake Deming of Goddard is EPOCh's principal investigator.

-- The Stardust NExT mission would use the existing Stardust spacecraft to flyby comet Tempel 1 and observe changes since the Deep Impact mission visited it in 2005. In 2005, Tempel 1 has made its closest approach to the sun, possibly changing the surface of the comet. Joseph Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is NExT's principal investigator.

"NASA Announces Discovery Program Selections"
30 October 2006

Link: NASA Press Release on Discovery Missions Proposals


A menacing lump of rock and dust in space called 101955 (1999 RQ36) would barely be noticed except for two crucial facts: First, "It's a treasure trove of organic material, so it holds clues to how Earth formed and life got started," said Joseph Nuth of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Second, it regularly crosses Earth's orbit, so it might impact us someday.

Nuth is Project Scientist for the proposed OSIRIS mission, which will "return a pristine sample of the scientifically priceless asteroid RQ36 to Earth for in-depth study," said University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) Director Michael Drake, Principal Investigator for the proposed mission. The mission will be the first to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. NASA Goddard is managing the project. Lockheed Martin is building the flight system, the sampling mechanism, and the sample return capsule. Lockheed Martin is also performing spacecraft operations.

The OSIRIS team recently won a $1.2 million award from NASA to develop a more detailed engineering study of how the mission will accomplish its scientific objectives. OSIRIS will launch in 2011, acquire a sample of RQ36 in 2013, and return it to Earth in 2017.

"Proposed Mission Will Return Sample from Near-Earth Object"
09 March 2007

Link: NASA Article

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