NASA Engineers Test Prototype Robotic Asteroid Capture System 

In order to better understand intricate operations and detailed planning needed to capture multi-ton boulder from asteroid surface

A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021. Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with foot pads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder. NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target. Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite servicing operations, fine tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit. Image Credit: NASA
A prototype of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) robotic capture module system is tested with a mock asteroid boulder in its clutches at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The robotic portion of ARM is targeted for launch in 2021.
Located in the center’s Robotic Operations Center, the mockup helps engineers understand the intricate operations required to collect a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid’s surface. The hardware involved here includes three space frame legs with footpads, two seven degrees of freedom arms that have with microspine gripper “hands” to grasp onto the boulder.
NASA and students from West Virginia University built the asteroid mockup from rock, styrofoam, plywood and an aluminum endoskeleton. The mock boulder arrived in four pieces and was assembled inside the ROC to help visualize the engagement between the prototype system and a potential capture target.
Inside the ROC, engineers can use industrial robots, a motion-based platform, and customized algorithms to create simulations of space operations for robotic spacecraft. The ROC also allows engineers to simulate robotic satellite-servicing operations, fine-tuning systems and controllers and optimizing performance factors for future missions when a robotic spacecraft might be deployed to repair or refuel a satellite in orbit.
Image Credit: NASA

Space news (Asteroid Redirect Mission: testing of prototype of robotic capture module system) – The Robotic Operations Center of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA's Asteroid Redirect Missions. Credits: NASA/Goddard
A new report provides expert findings from a special action team on how elements of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) can address decadal science objectives and help close Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKGs) for future human missions in deep space. Credits: NASA/Goddard

Inside the Robotic Operations Center (ROC) of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center engineers are at work preparing the robotic section of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The most recent work involved testing a prototype of the asteroid capture system with a mock boulder built by NASA and students from West Virginia University. This work will help engineers learn more about the intricate operations needed to capture a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid. The robotic section of ARM is targeted for a 2021 launch window.

The capability built into the ROC allows engineers to create a simulation of the capture of a boulder from the surface of an asteroid. Here they can also simulate servicing of the satellite, fine tuning of systems and controllers, and even optimize all performance factors for future repairs and refueling. An important capability when building spacecraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars and even more. One that saves money and time.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission is expected to offer benefits that should teach us more about operating in space and enable future space missions. You can read a report here on some of the expected benefits.

The report reflects the findings of a two-month study conducted by members of the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG). It explains many of ARM’s potential contributions to the future of the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

“This report is an important step in identifying ways that ARM will be more scientifically relevant as we continue mission formulation for the robotic and the crew segments,” said Gates. “We’re currently in the process of selecting hosted instruments and payloads for the robotic segment, and hope to receive an updated analysis from the SBAG after we announce those selections in spring 2017.”

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NEOWISE’s One Year Space Mission Discovers 40 Near-earth Objects

NEOWISE discovered 40 potentially dangerous asteroids orbiting near earth
NEOWISE discovered 40 potentially dangerous asteroids orbiting near earth

Making life on Earth safer for all 

Space news (January 21, 2015) near Earth –

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) discovered eight potentially dangerous asteroids during a recent one-year mission. Dangerous asteroids, in this case, are classified as objects that due to their volume and near-Earth orbit could pose a future collision threat. This was out of a total of 40 new objects NASA discovered orbiting close to the planet during its year-long mission. You can view a movie of the spacecraft’s progress during the past year using the link at the end of the article.

NEOWISE looked at a total of 245 known near-Earth objects from December 2013 to December 2014. This spacecraft views the sky during the dawn and dust perpendicular to a line between Earth and the sun. This allows it to spot near-Earth objects that come close to the planet. In this case discovering eight potentially dangerous asteroids, we can make plans to deal with, if needed, in the future. They also got a better look at the size and orbit of over 200 near-Earth objects they knew about.

NEOWISE found a total of 35 comets during its year-long mission, including three space scientists knew nothing about. This includes the brightest comet in Earth’s sky, comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), which arrived early in 2015.

Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is one of more than 32 comets imaged by NASA's NEOWISE mission from December 2013 to December 2014. This image of comet Lovejoy combines a series of observations made in November 2013, when comet Lovejoy was 1.7 astronomical units from the sun. (An astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun.)  The image spans half of one degree. It shows the comet moving in a mostly west and slightly south direction. (North is 26 degrees to the right of up in the image, and west is 26 degrees downward from directly right.) The red color is caused by the strong signal in the NEOWISE 4.6-micron wavelength detector, owing to a combination of gas and dust in the comet's coma.
Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is one of more than 32 comets imaged by NASA’s NEOWISE mission from December 2013 to December 2014. This image of comet Lovejoy combines a series of observations made in November 2013 when comet Lovejoy was 1.7 astronomical units from the sun. (An astronomical unit is a distance between Earth and the sun.)
The image spans half of one degree. It shows the comet moving in a mostly west and slightly south direction. (North is 26 degrees to the right of up in the image, and west is 26 degrees downward from directly right.) The red color is caused by the strong signal in the NEOWISE 4.6-micron wavelength detector, owing to a combination of gas and dust in the comet’s coma.

No word from NASA on the future of NEOWISE, but we do need a spacecraft monitoring the skies near Earth for potentially hazardous objects on a full-time basis. Hopefully, they can rework this spacecraft’s mission, once again, and put NEOWISE on guard protecting the planet for decades to come.

You can find more information on NASA’s NEOWISE here.

You can find a chart of comet Lovejoy’s progress during the month here.

You can find more information on NASA’s mission to catalog all near-Earth objects here.

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NASA’s Asteroid Hunting Contest

Develop improved algorithms to help NASA identify problem asteroids

NASA wants to find all the problem asteroids near Earth
Asteroids travelling past Earth regularly could become a problem

Astronomy News – NASA and Planetary Resources Inc. just put out the call for amateur and professional astronomers to help develop or improve algorithms used to identify asteroids in images from ground-based telescopes. The winning solution must increase detection sensitivity, minimize the number of false positives, ignore imperfections in the data and run on all current computer systems. This is the chance for you to make a name for yourself and possibly part of the $35,000 in awards being handed out to the successful party. The winners could find their names in the history books as contributors to the job of helping keep the Earth safe from asteroids. You could also be part of the group coming up with new ideas to help protect the planet from the asteroids they discover.

Earth-based telescopes used to find problem asteroids coming near Earth need to be improved
Amateur and professional scientists are being challenged to improve current techniques used to find problem asteroids travelling near Earth

Called the Asteroid Hunting contest series, the first contest will start on March 17, 2014.  Amateur and professional astronomers can sign up for the event by creating an account on the contest website here. They can also check out the contest rules and different parts of the contest they can take part in.

The Asteroid Hunting contest series is managed by the NASA Tournament Lab and is the first part of the agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge. The entire Asteroid Grand Challenge contest is scheduled to take until the end of August to complete.

“For the past three years, NASA has been learning and advancing the ability to leverage distributed algorithm and coding skills through the NASA Tournament Lab to solve tough problems,” said Jason Crusan, NASA Tournament Lab director. “We are now applying our experience with algorithm contests to helping protect the planet from asteroid threats through image analysis.”

“Protecting the planet from the threat of asteroid impact means first knowing where they are,” said Jenn Gustetic, Prizes and Challenges Program executive. “By opening up the search for asteroids, we are harnessing the potential of innovators and makers and citizen scientists everywhere to help solve this global challenge.”

“Current asteroid detection initiatives are only tracking one percent of the estimated objects that orbit the Sun. We are excited to partner with NASA in this contest to help increase the quantity and knowledge about asteroids that are potential threats, human destinations, or resource rich.” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc. “Applying distributed algorithm and coding skills to the extensive NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey data set will yield important insights into the state of the art in detecting asteroids.”

NASA’s asteroid initiative is managed by the Center for Excellence for Collaboration Innovation (CoECI) and was formed at the request of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. For more information on the agency visit http://www.nasa.gov/coeci.

For more information on Planetary Resources Inc. visit http://www.planetaryresources.com.

For more information on NASA’s asteroid initiative visit http://www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative

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All images and diagrams were provided by NASA.