Tight Budgets Slow Exploration Development

By Frank Morring, Jr., Mark Carreau
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Some 140 participants showed up from around the U.S. and 16 other nations, selected after a general announcement of the opportunity to submit proposals, only to have the plug pulled by the government shutdown. The B612 Foundation, a private group set up to map potentially threatening near-Earth asteroids, invited the participants to continue their discussions at a nearby hotel.

While the big aerospace contractors urged use of their hardware and experience to save money for an asteroid mission, smaller operators suggested completely different approaches. Joel Sercel, of ICE Associates Inc., a Los Angeles aerospace consultant and former New Millennium manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, urged the agency to place more emphasis on a public/private partnership strategy that would emphasize a national economic return rather than a door to deep space for human explorers. Sercel's proposed Honeybee mission would rely on a Falcon 9 launch to retrieve a smaller near-Earth object than NASA proposes and assess it for potential resources as it is steered into a stable lunar orbit.

NASA intends to formulate more detailed plans for its proposed 2015 budget. In 2014, the agency will seek a $105 million down payment to step up asteroid detection and characterization capabilities, while advancing Solar Electric Propulsion and capture technologies. That assumes, of course, that there will be some funding for the mission.

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