NASA Wants Help Capturing A Piece Of Asteroid

If the phrase "primordial multi-ton mass" intrigues you, read on

asteroid

NASA asteroid capture concept art

NASA wants to collect more asteroid material than ever, and they're looking for help to do it.European Space Agency

NASA sees your disdain for its plan to capture part of an asteroid and drag it into orbit around the moon, but you know what? It's neat, and the agency is going to do it anyway. And it wants help from private companies to do it.

In a strange pre-announcement, NASA today said that in the "near future," it will release the Asteroid Redirect Mission Umbrella for Partnerships (ARM-UP) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). Hey, it's not NASA without gratuitous abbreviations.

Basically, this will be a chance for companies to help provide equipment for NASA's mission to send a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid (planned to launch in 2021), where the robot will grab a "primordial multi-ton mass," (aka boulder), and drag it into orbit around the moon. Then, five years later in 2026, NASA will send good old human astronauts to this relocated asteroid in a shiny new Orion spacecraft, and they'll take smaller samples of it back to Earth for study.

They're calling it a "capability demonstration mission," and since Congress and planetary scientists alike have a history of hating this particular project, they're calling for outside partnerships.

Here's what NASA says it wants companies to help with, according to a synopsis released on government solicitations site FedBizOpps:

ASA intends to seek proposals in research areas to include, but not limited to: partner-provided investigations through systems/payloads to be hosted on the ARRM [Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission]; collaboration through an Investigation Team to support definition of additional mission investigations; studies to define mission partnership opportunities toward NASA's planned crewed mission to the multi-ton asteroid boulder; and opportunities for access and experimentation at the asteroid boulder after the crewed mission.

NASA scientists are hoping samples collected will bring forth new discoveries about life back on Earth, how we got here in the first place, and how asteroids could be used for resources. Presumably, the agency is also willing to pay companies that help with this effort, though so far, it hasn't said how much.

NASA is aiming to release the umbrella BAA next month, with a virtual industry forum on September 14th. And the whole opportunity will be open for companies through August 2018. If you're a spaceflight contractor who's always dreamed of being Bruce Willis in Armageddon, get your submission paperwork ready, and cue up your Aerosmith.