NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is Vital to the Future of Humanity in Space

For 50 years NASA has been the world leader in space exploration and development, ushering humanity into the space age through innovative technologies and unparalleled scientific discoveries. As we push forward to a new space agenda focused on long-term human settlement, NASA’s leadership is key to removing barriers and creating new capabilities. In order to settle the final frontier, humanity must learn to “live off the land” by utilizing the vast resources of space. The first step in this process is through the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).

NASA will announce in February whether they will gather and return an entire small asteroid, or a piece of a larger asteroid, repositioning the material into orbit around the Moon. Astronauts, and eventually private companies, will then be able to study the material in an effort to better understand the resources available from near-Earth asteroids.

This concept image shows an astronaut preparing to take samples from the captured asteroid. Image Credit: NASA

This concept image shows an astronaut preparing to take samples from the captured asteroid. Image Credit: NASA

Deep Space Industries sees particular importance in returning tons of material from a carbonaceous chondrite asteroid so that the private sector can conduct pilot production of propellant and other products. Only ounces of such material exist from meteorite falls or will be collected during upcoming science-oriented asteroid missions; and currently none of this material is available for processing tests.

Until theoretical predictions are followed up with verifiable data, NASA and the private sector cannot confidently invest in unlocking the huge exploration leverage offered by asteroid resources. While in-situ resources on the lunar surface and on Mars benefit only activities in those two places, ARM is a key step toward showing that asteroid resources returned to cis-lunar space will enhance the economics of all space activities, from propellants and radiation shielding for expeditions to the Moon and Mars to the resupply of Earth-orbit enterprises.

The tons of material returned by ARM will be crucial to pilot production of soft cryogens such as methane and LOX, as well as storables such as methanol and hydrogen peroxide. These chemical fuels provide for the rapid delivery of crews to Mars and robotic missions to the outer planets. Also, the larger solar arrays spurred by ARM will provide very useful high power levels for the in-space processing of asteroid-derived products.

The agency’s collaborative process for formulating ARM has been cognizant of the great potential for industry to build upon what NASA initially creates. Overall, ARM provides truly important strides toward a sustainable and expansive exploration agenda across the solar system.

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