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Strategic considerations of human exploration of Near-Earth asteroids

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1 Author(s)
Drake, B.G. ; Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, NASA, Houston, TX, USA

The current United States Space Policy [1] as articulated by the White House and later confirmed by the Congress [2] affirms that “[t]he extension of the human presence from low-Earth orbit to other regions of space beyond low-Earth orbit will enable missions to the surface of the Moon and missions to deep space destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars.” Human exploration of the Moon and Mars has been the focus of numerous exhaustive studies and planning, but missions to Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) has, by comparison, garnered relatively little attention in terms of mission and systems planning. This paper examines the strategic implications of human exploration of NEAs and how they can fit into the overall exploration strategy. This paper specifically addresses how accessible currently known NEAs are in terms of mission duration, technologies required, and overall architecture construct. Example mission architectures utilizing different propulsion technologies such as chemical, nuclear thermal, and solar electric propulsion were formulated to determine resulting figures of merit including number of NEAs accessible, time of flight, mission mass, number of departure windows, and length of the launch windows. These data, in conjunction with what we currently know about these potential exploration targets (or need to know in the future), provide key insights necessary for future mission and strategic planning. The analysis suggests that a human mission to a NEA is more representative of a human mission to Mars, and thus would more suitably serve as a final demonstration test of the Mars systems rather than the first human mission beyond low-Earth orbit1, 2.

Published in:

Aerospace Conference, 2012 IEEE

Date of Conference:

3-10 March 2012