The space lasso could soon be a reality. Senator Bill Nelson (D - FL) says that NASA is likely to get the $100 million it’s requesting to begin work on a robotic spaceship that could trap an asteroid and bring it into orbit around the moon in 2019, reports Space.com. “This is part of what will be a much broader program,” said Nelson on Friday. “The plan combines the science of mining an asteroid, along with developing ways to deflect one, along with providing a place to develop ways we can go to Mars.” Astronauts would then fly NASA’s Orion capsule and Space Launch Rocket System to the asteroid to begin research and exploration of the near-Earth object in 2021, said Nelson. The Washington Post reports that the mission could start earlier than that, however, possibly going ahead as early as 2017.
Like "a baggie with a drawstring"
The goal is snaring an asteroid of about 25 feet in length, which would weigh on the order of 500 tons on Earth. According to Donald Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near Earth Object program, the robotic spaceship that will trap the asteroid will be like “a baggie with a drawstring,” reports The Associated Press. After you “bag” the object, you just need to “attach the solar propulsion module to de-spin it and bring it back to where you want it,” which sounds easy enough. In order to do that, the project would need a new, cutting-edge solar engine, said former NASA CTO Robert Braun.
The $100 million earmark is said to be included in the Obama administration’s 2014 budget, which will be released next week. But actually seeing the project through to completion will take a lot more. The original Keck Institute proposal estimated that it would cost $2.6 billion to fund a similar mission, pricing it around the cost of Curiosity’s mission to Mars.