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NASA is asking for help from academia, citizens and other agencies in identifying asteroids that might endanger the planet. It also wants ideas on how to redirect and study asteroids. On Thursday it issued a formal challenge by posting a request for information in six areas: asteroid observation, asteroid redirection systems, asteroid deflection demonstration, asteroid capture systems, crew systems for asteroid exploration, and partnerships and participatory engagement. The responses will be used in a September industry workshop, the agency said.
The challenge represents a major effort involving multi-disciplinary collaborations and partnerships -- including the private and public sectors -- to find asteroid threats and learn how to deal with them. Such challenges focus on breakthroughs in science and technology, and are part of President Obama's Strategy for American Innovation. "While we have found 95% of the large asteroids near the Earth's orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth," NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said in a statement. "We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem."
[ Will astronauts someday be able to "print" their own equipment? Read NASA Tests 3-D Printing In Space. ]
Asteroid redirection, capture, and crew systems are the most intriguing of the six areas. Asteroid redirection involves concepts for robotic spacecraft systems that can engage with an asteroid and redirect about 1,000 metric tons into translunar -- beyond the moon -- space. Among other technologies, NASA is looking for integrated sensing to characterize the asteroid's size, shape and mass, among other properties.
For asteroid capture, NASA is interested in deployable and inflatable structures, capture bags, robotic mechanisms, modeling and simulation and telerobotic operations. NASA also wants ideas for space suits, tools, translation aids, stowage containers and other equipment that would allow astronauts to explore an asteroid and collect samples.
Back in April, the space agency set aside $105 million toward developing technology to mine asteroids in space. The White House proposed a federal budget of $17.7 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2014, a chunk of which will be used to robotically mine asteroids. NASA's goal is to visit an asteroid in space by 2025. The mission will combine existing capabilities of the Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with yet-to-be-developed technologies, such as those identified in the RFI. The agency is planning to launch a flight test of the Orion in 2014 and the SLS in 2017.