The researchers at KISS (Keck Institute for Space Studies) have disclosed in a study released by them, that they have outlined a mission to send an asteroid into lunar orbit by 2025 through ion propulsion and the really big bag. The idea behind this mission is to bring asteroid near to the earth to make the astronauts visits easy so that they can study it easy.
They also want to minimize the cost of space mission by doing this without taking any risk during the space mission.
This mission has been outlined with joint cooperation of Jet Propulsion Laboratory and others. NASA also want to send manned mission to an area around the earth known as columnar space that extends out to just beyond Moon’s orbit. Actually there is nothing for astronauts to visit while it is great technological challenge for NASA. The purpose of this study is to find near-Earth asteroid to drag it back for study.
This idea of exploiting asteroids is for a very long time. A Russian space pioneer, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky wrote in his book “The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Motors, in 1903. Since 1903, this topic has been a staple for science fiction stories and then in 1969, Hammer Films made feature about asteroids named Moon Zero Two. As per Keck Study, now there is technology for asteroids towing.
The Second step is to launch an unmanned spacecraft. Surprisingly this space craft would be too small for such big job. Its weight will be only 18,000 KG, which make it enough light to send it to the low-earth orbit by one Atlas V rocket. The one important feature of this craft is its ion propulsion containing of 5 10-KW Hall thrusters mounted on two-axis gimbals to steering. Powered with xenon propellant, only four thrusters will be used one time fifth will be spare as back up.
These Ion thrusters work using solar panels to charge xenon atoms. Producing thrust, a cathode accelerates the xenon ions. Ion thrusters can operate for months at end as the thrust is very slight to build the tiny thrust. Approximately it will take four year to reach the target asteroid.
On a station, it will spend 90 days for studying, bagging, capturing and de-spinning the asteroid. The bagging and capture phase is a mechanism consisting of 10-meter long, having width 15-meters bag with inflatable arms. Then craft will use rockets to design the asteroid to make the asteroid more manageable.
Another interesting thing, craft will return to the earth utilizing a combination of ion propulsion and gravity assist maneuvers to fetch the asteroid in lunar orbit, preferably at Lagrange point 1 or 2. Lagrange is the point the gravitational forces are equal and cancel each other and anything can maintain its position here. At this point, there is no danger of asteroid hitting earth, so keeping it here so that astronauts can visit it easily.