Mission Description: NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is a capability demonstration mission that combines robotic and crewed segments to develop, test, and utilize a number of key capabilities that will be needed for future exploration of Mars and other Solar System destinations. ARM consists of two mission segments: 1) the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM), the first robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid and collect a multi-ton boulder and regolith samples from its surface, demonstrate a planetary defense technique known as the Enhanced Gravity Tractor, and return the asteroidal material to a stable orbit around the Moon; and 2) the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission (ARCM), in which astronauts take the Orion capsule to rendezvous and dock with the robotic vehicle, conduct multiple extra-vehicular activities to explore the boulder, and return to Earth with samples. The ARRM is planned to launch at the end of 2021, and the ARCM in 2026.
Mission Objectives: The ARM is designed to address the need for flight experience in cis-lunar space and provide opportunities for testing the systems, technologies, and capabilities required for future human operations in deep space. The highest priority objective of ARM is to conduct a human spaceflight mission involving interaction with a natural object, in order to provide the systems and operational experience that will be required for eventual human exploration of the Mars system, including the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos. Another primary objective of ARM is the development of a high-power Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) vehicle, and the demonstration that it can operate for many years in interplanetary space, which is critical for deep-space exploration missions. By transferring the multi-ton asteroid boulder to lunar vicinity, the ARRM will demonstrate the ability for SEP-based spacecraft to transport massive objects such as crew habitats, landers, or interplanetary cargo. The ARCM provides a focus for the early flights of the Orion program, and will provide the opportunity for human explorers to work in space with asteroid material, testing the activities that would be performed and the tools that would be needed for deep space exploration.
Input to ARM and Future Plans: In late 2015, NASA established the Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST), which was chartered by NASA to provide timely inputs for mission requirement formulation, to assist in developing an initial list of potential mission investigations, and to provide input on potential hosted payloads and partnerships that could be provided by domestic and international partners. As of December 2015, the FAST has been formally retired and the final report publically released in February 2016. However, a multidisciplinary ARM Investigation Team (IT) will be formed to assist with the definition and support of mission investigations, support ARM program-level and project-level functions, provide technical expertise, and support NASA Headquarters interactions with the technical communities. Additionally, NASA plans to provide opportunities for additional contributed payloads and associated investigations to be included as part of the ARRM.