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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NASA Adds to Framework of Plans for Three Year Mission to Mars

Planners under pressure to provide details of long-term plans before Presidential election

A team prepares a robot – the yellow machine attached to the liquid hydrogen tank for the Space Launch System rocket -- for friction plug welding at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Friction plug welding is a technique developed by engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It uses a robot to fill holes left after the tank goes through assembly in a larger robotic welder. The liquid hydrogen tank is more than 130 feet long and is the largest part of the rocket’s core stage -- the backbone of the rocket. The liquid hydrogen tank, along with a liquid oxygen tank, will provide 733,000 gallons of fuel for the first integrated mission of SLS with NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2018. SLS will be the world's most powerful rocket and take astronauts in Orion to deep space, including on the Journey to Mars. Image Credit: NASA/Michoud/Steve Seipel
A team prepares a robot – the yellow machine attached to the liquid hydrogen tank for the Space Launch System rocket — for friction plug welding at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Friction plug welding is a technique developed by engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It uses a robot to fill holes left after the tank goes through assembly in a larger robotic welder. The liquid hydrogen tank is more than 130 feet long and is the largest part of the rocket’s core stage — the backbone of the rocket. The liquid hydrogen tank, along with a liquid oxygen tank, will provide 733,000 gallons of fuel for the first integrated mission of SLS with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in 2018. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket and take astronauts in Orion to deep space, including on the Journey to Mars.
Image Credit: NASA/Michoud/Steve Seipel

Space news (Deep space missions: go for Mars; Orion spacecraft) – Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama –

Technicians from Janicki Industries in Hamilton, Washington, position the layers of the diaphragm for the Orion stage adapter. The adapter will join the Orion spacecraft to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) of the Space Launch System, NASA's new rocket for the journey to Mars. The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS in 2018. The adapter diaphragm is used to keep launch vehicle gases away from the spacecraft. The diaphragm is constructed of multiple layers of carbon fiber fabric material engrained with epoxy. The layers are pieced together and carefully positioned in place using laser projectors to outline where they need to go. Janicki finished laying the final piece in late October. The diaphragm work is being done in collaboration with NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Image Credit: Janicki Industries
Technicians from Janicki Industries in Hamilton, Washington, position the layers of the diaphragm for the Orion stage adapter. The adapter will join the Orion spacecraft to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) of the Space Launch System, NASA’s new rocket for the journey to Mars. The ICPS is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based system that will give Orion the in-space push needed to fly beyond the moon before it returns to Earth on the first flight of SLS in 2018. The adapter diaphragm is used to keep launch vehicle gases away from the spacecraft.
The diaphragm is constructed of multiple layers of carbon fiber fabric material engrained with epoxy. The layers are pieced together and carefully positioned in place using laser projectors to outline where they need to go. Janicki finished laying the final piece in late October. The diaphragm work is being done in collaboration with NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Image Credit: Janicki Industries

NASA plans to travel to the Red Planet for a three-year mission to set up operations for future missions and possible colonization recently took one step forward. NASA mission managers and other experts gave the Safety Oversight Board an update on the current status of plans to travel to Mars during the latest Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) meeting. The committee members took a very close look at their plans and pointed out America and NASA can’t afford to fumble the ball at this point in history. That with the Presidential election taking place, they‘ll need to see more on NASA’s future plans to travel to Mars, before more funding for future missions will be forthcoming.

We need the biggest rocket stage ever built for the bold missions in deep space that NASA's Space Launch System rocket will give us the capability to achieve. This infographic sums up everything you need to know about the SLS core stage, the 212-foot-tall stage that serves as the backbone of the most powerful rocket in the world. The core stage includes the liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank that hold 733,000 gallons of propellant to power the stage’s four RS-25 engines needed for liftoff and the journey to Mars. #SLSFiredUp Image Credit: NASA/MSFC
We need the biggest rocket stage ever built for the bold missions in deep space that NASA’s Space Launch System rocket will give us the capability to achieve. This infographic sums up everything you need to know about the SLS core stage, the 212-foot-tall stage that serves as the backbone of the most powerful rocket in the world. The core stage includes the liquid hydrogen tank and liquid oxygen tank that hold 733,000 gallons of propellant to power the stage’s four RS-25 engines needed for liftoff and the journey to Mars. #SLSFiredUp
Image Credit: NASA/MSFC

NASA at this point’s trying to get work completed on the planned debut for the Space Launch System (SLS) with the launch of Exploration Mission Orion (EM-1) in 2017-2018. The second test of the Space Launch System (SLS) is scheduled for around 2021, with a crew this time, but NASA’s presently trying to reduce the five-year gap between the first two SLS missions. This launch system or something similar is needed for plans to travel to Mars and colonize the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s

When astronauts are on their first test flight aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will take them farther into the solar system than humanity has ever traveled before, their mission will be to confirm all of the spacecraft’s systems operate as designed in the actual environment of deep space. After an Orion test campaign that includes ground tests, systems demonstrations on the International Space Station, and uncrewed space test flights, this first crewed test flight will mark a significant step forward on NASA’s Journey to Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL
The first test flight aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft will mark the furthest point human beings have traveled from the bosom of Mother Earth. This flight will confirm the spacecraft”s systems work as needed to keep astronauts alive during a deep space trip to Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL

At this point in time, these are the only scheduled SLS missions, but NASA’s documents do show preliminary plans for 41 SLS missions between 2018 to 2046 towards future surface missions on Phobos and then the Red Planet. NASA also provided a generalized plan calling for astronauts to journey to the fourth planet from the Sun for a permanent stay sometime in the 2030s. At this point, however, concrete long-term plans surrounding future manned trips to Mars are hazy due to NASA’s funding outlook, which is only estimated for long-term space mission requirements. Experts agree, though, a hefty increase in funding’s going to be needed for a realistic, viable plan and trip to the Red Planet. Getting it ready for more colonizers is a different question, though, requiring additional thought, planning, and funding.

Space Launching System installed in the Transonic Dynamic Tunnel for testing. Engineers, Martin Sekula, Mike Ramsey and David Piatak surveys the model before testing.
Space Launching System installed in the Transonic Dynamic Tunnel for testing. Engineers, Martin Sekula, Mike Ramsey and David Piatak surveys the model before testing. Final touches are made on a 10-foot model of the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, just before testing it in the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier stated the SLS will launch at least once a year when questioned about the tight schedule of EM-1. NASA’s monster rocket system isn’t scheduled to take astronauts into space until sometime in the next decade, so expectations are for NASA to plan and execute a range of different unmanned space missions to test the system. This could include a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to take a dip in the ocean of water planetary scientists think exists below its icy crust.

SLS_TDT: Mike Ramsey, Martin Sekula, and David Piatak in the control room of the Transonic Dynamic Tunnel testing the Space Launching System model. Engineers, Martin Sekula, David Piatak and Mike Ramsey
SLS_TDT: Mike Ramsey, Martin Sekula, and David Piatak in the control room of the Transonic Dynamic Tunnel testing the Space Launching System model. Engineers, Martin Sekula, David Piatak and Mike Ramsey. Rocket scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, analyze data in the control room during wind tunnel testing of a 10-foot model of the Space Launch System. Credits: NASA/David C. Bowman

Bill Hill, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development (ESD) for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), updated board members on the status of current plans for astronauts to travel to Mars by the 2030s. At this point in the planning, program managers are still reviewing options, rather than adding a foundation to present plans.

NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010.
NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010. Credits: NASA

NASA planners have significant hurdles to overcome if they’re to successfully send astronauts to the Red Planet and allow them to get back into orbit. The first obstacle’s going to be designing, engineering and testing a Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system capable of generating enough energy to get a spacecraft up to a significant percentage of the speed of light. The Helios space probes hold the record for the fastest recorded human spacecraft at around 150,000 miles per hour as they whip around the Sun measuring the solar wind and environment. The second significant hurdle’s collecting enough oxygen from the frozen regions of Mars to provide the fuel required to travel from the surface back into orbit. Plans for a three-year mission are also of concern to scientists, engineers and planners worried about the dangers and problems astronauts will face living, working and staying healthy during a long-duration space mission.

The spacecraft, rockets and associated systems in development for NASA's Commercial Crew Program are critical links in the agency's chain to send astronauts safely to and from the Red Planet in the future, even though the commercial vehicles won’t venture to Mars themselves. The key is reliable access to the International Space Station as a test bed.
The spacecraft, rockets and associated systems in development for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program are critical links in the agency’s chain to send astronauts safely to and from the Red Planet in the future, even though the commercial vehicles won’t venture to Mars themselves. The key is reliable access to the International Space Station as a test bed. Credits: NASA

Of concern previously and still a problem the committee mentioned was the need for engineers and scientists to produce a heat shield for the Orion spacecraft capable of surviving reentry. The spacecraft will have to survive a 13.5 kilometers per second entry velocity and planners indicated this capability’s on the agency’s must-do list. At present, Orion isn’t going to survive the fall to Earth after it returns from Mars, according to engineers and scientists. Committee members also noted they have been asking NASA managers for a formal outline of their plans to send astronauts to Mars for awhile. They specifically wanted to know what new technologies will be needed to successfully allow astronauts to travel to the Red Planet to begin colonization.

An artist's rendering of the Mars Ice Home concept. Credits: NASA/Clouds AO/SEArch
An artist’s rendering of the Mars Ice Home concept. Mars colonists arriving at the Red Planet might find the accommodations a little sparse. Getting out and about is going to be a little more difficult, but every day will be an adventure to never forget. Credits: NASA/Clouds AO/SEArch

NASA officials responded to committee member requests by stating the agency was in the process of “adding meat to the bones” of the transitional phase of their plans to send astronauts to Mars. During this phase 0, NASA’s turns its attention toward successful test flights for the SLS and Orion, while using the International Space Station (ISS) to test the effects of living and working in space for long periods of time.

Team members of the Ice Home Feasibility Study discuss past and present technology development efforts in inflatable structures at NASA's Langley Research Center. Credits: Courtesy of Kevin Kempton
Team members of the Ice Home Feasibility Study discuss past and present technology development efforts in inflatable structures at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
Credits: Courtesy of Kevin Kempton

The Asteroid Redirect Mission’s (ARM) phase 1 of NASA’s three-part plan to send astronauts to the Red Planet. Initially, this mission had a nominal date of around 2021, but planners have recently updated the mission launch date to around 2026. They’ll need to complete this mission successfully in order to learn some of the things they’ll need to know to send astronauts to Mars to begin colonization. During this phase, engineers and scientists will test the flight capability of the system using the Exploration Missions.

UPDATED Jan. 4, 2017, at 2 p.m. PST NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has resumed full service following recovery after entering a safe standby mode on Dec. 26, 2016. The orbiter resumed communication relay assistance to Mars rovers on Dec. 30, 2016. Science observations of Mars by instruments on Odyssey resumed on Jan. 3, 2017, with its Thermal Emission Imaging System, and on the next day with its High Energy Neutral Spectrometer and the Neutron Spectrometer.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft has resumed full service following recovery after entering a safe standby mode on Dec. 26, 2016. The orbiter resumed communication relay assistance to Mars rovers on Dec. 30, 2016. Science observations of Mars by instruments on Odyssey resumed on Jan. 3, 2017, with its Thermal Emission Imaging System, and on the next day with its High Energy Neutral Spectrometer and the Neutron Spectrometer. Credits: NASA

Phase 2 of NASA’s plans to send astronauts to Mars will test all flight elements needed to travel to the Red Planet, during planned Beyond Earth Orbit test missions. The committee thanked Mars Mission managers but asked to see more detail and definite plans on NASA’s current outline.

NASA has set a new launch opportunity, beginning May 5, 2018, for the InSight mission to Mars. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. This artist's concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander's robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground.
NASA has set a new launch opportunity, beginning May 5, 2018, for the InSight mission to Mars. InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. This artist’s concept depicts the InSight lander on Mars after the lander’s robotic arm has deployed a seismometer and a heat probe directly onto the ground. Credits: NASA/JPL

Mankind goes for Mars

Mr. Hill commented that NASA’s already learned many needed lessons towards phase 0 of their Mars Mission plans. He added that the nation had already invested significantly in the technology needed to send astronauts to Mar during the decades ahead. That more work needed to be done in order to not loose this work and get the job done within a specific time period. Specific milestones have been met and Exploration Mission 1’s (EM-1) on target for a launch window between September to November 2018.

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Discover the International Space Station here.

Read and learn more about NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).