The Earth’s moon may get its own moon from NASA. The U.S. space agency will use a robotic probe to pluck a large boulder off an asteroid and send it into the orbit around moon. It will allow astronomers to study the rock as it revolves around the Earth. The so-called Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is targeted for launch in December 2020. It will be followed by a human expedition to the space rock in 2025.
NASA to put a boulder in moon’s orbit
The ARM will allow NASA to test many of its technologies that will eventually carry humans to Mars. Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s associate administrator, said the option to retrieve a boulder from an asteroid will have a significant impact on the future human missions. The space agency chose to go with ‘Option B’ rather than ‘Option A.’ The first option was to grab an entire asteroid and relocate it into an orbit around the moon. But it decided to pluck a suitable boulder from an asteroid and put it into the moon’s orbit.
Robert Lightfoot said in a statement that the Option B was chosen because it would allow the agency to test more of its technologies needed for the ambitious trip to Mars. If successful, the ARM technology will also help NASA protect the Earth from any future asteroid impacts. If an asteroid was coming towards the Earth, NASA might use this technology to throw it off the course.
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NASA has already identified asteroids
The space agency has already identified three asteroids, and plans to identify one or two more potential candidates every year. It will examine them for their size, shape, orbit and other characteristics before picking the final candidate. The robotic probe will land on the chosen asteroid, grab a boulder, and send it into the moon’s orbit over a number of years by using subtle gravitational force.
Using a solar electric propulsion system, it would take the unmanned spacecraft about two years to reach the target asteroid. Then it will spend 215 to 400 days hovering around it to select the boulder. Meanwhile, NASA would prepare to send astronauts to the boulder by 2025 aboard an Orion capsule.