Keith's note: NASA quietly admitted today at the Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) Meeting that one of the formally baseline, prime science requirements of the Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is to retrive a boulder from the surface of an asteroid and bring it back to lunar orbit where a human crew will do science with it. Despite the mission's name no "asteroid" will actually be "retrieved". As such NASA really should refine the mission to be the "Boulder Retrieval Mission". To be honest the whole notion of grabbing anything in space was never a driver for this mission - despite the name.
NASA seems to be having some issues with the whole boulder thing too. Today a speaker outlining hardware design work for ARM at JPL noted that there was a lot of hard thinking and work put into how to build a "synthetic boulder" to be used to test things. Its not a real boulder, its a mockup of a boulder. Its really odd that this would be so hard - especially in southern California where JPLers could easily visit Disney Land which has been making synthetic boulders since the 1950s. A little more freeway driving and they could also visit Hollywood which also has some fair expertise in the creation of synthetic boulders such as the one used in "Star Trek" in 1967.
Another topic of discussion was whether the SBAG get togethers should be a "conference" or a "meeting". This of course sent SMD's Jim Green into a long discussion of how hard it is for NASA to do conferences these days since it is hard for NASA to do conferences. It also led to a discussion amongst the participants as to what a "conference" is and what a "meeting" is. Gee, after half a century NASA still has not figured out what a "conference" or a "meeting" is and used meeting/conference time to discuss the topic. I am not certain anything was resolved on this topic.
Back to ARM. At its last meeting the NASA Advisory Council came within a millimeters of recommending that NASA abandon the whole ARM concept and use the solar electric asteroid grabbing vehicle to go to Phobos (and back) instead. This way it would actually serve as a real step on NASA's #JourneyToMars - by actually going to Mars - instead of a dead end sideshow. It is all but certain that the NAC will take this action at their meeting at JPL on 30-31 July. Of course, Congress is already formally against ARM and with the exception of a few companies who want to mine asteroids, no one really supports it at the present time. And NASA can't even admit that the $1.25 billion cost (without launcher) would balloon to $3 billion or so when it uses the two SLS flights it wants to use. And oh yes: the OSIRIS-REx mission will already do nearly all of the sciencey stuff ARM is doing (as an afterthought) - at a fraction of the cost of ARM.
So much for the first big step on the road to Mars. It just keeps shrinking.
- NASA Advisory Council Wants to Cancel Asteroid Redirect Mission and Send it to Phobos Instead
- Asteroid Retrieval Is Not The Prime Intent of NASA's Asteroid Retrieval Mission
- NASA: Two SLS Launches Likely Needed For $3 billion+ ARM, earlier post
- Asteroid Redirect Mission Critique
- Congress, NAC, SBAG, Question Asteroid Mission, earlier post
- Report of the Small Bodies Assessment Group Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, 30 July 2014 (Draft), earlier post
- SBAG Asteroid Redirect Mission Special Action Team, July 2014 presentation, earlier post
- Asteroid Experts Are Not Very Fond of NASA's Asteroid Mission, earlier post