Space agency sets aside $105 million toward developing technology to mine asteroids in space.
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President Barack Obama has proposed a federal budget of $17.7 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2014. The agency plans to use a chunk of those funds to focus on a novel initiative to robotically mine asteroids.
NASA plans to spend $105 million of the proposed budget to start a new mission 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, like solar electric propulsion and laser communications, to identify, capture and redirect a small asteroid into a stable orbit near the moon. Solar electric propulsion generates high levels of thrust and power that would be required to capture and redirect an asteroid.
Astronauts will visit the asteroid and take samples for research, traveling on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), which is designed to carry crew to space beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). The collected samples will be sent back to Earth.
NASA said the mission will require refined spacecraft designs, such as building with lightweight materials. Communication, data storage and transfer, and space navigation are also on the list of improvements that need to be made.
"This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat that will lead to new scientific discoveries and technological capabilities and help protect our home planet. This asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration efforts to achieve the president's goal of sending humans to an asteroid," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a written statement.
By studying asteroids, NASA will have the keys to understanding whether they pose a threat to Earth and how the risks could be mitigated. The findings will be used to advance the U.S. government's ability to track and characterize these objects, and to gauge what affects their movement, said NASA.
In addition to its asteroid mission -- which includes a flight test of the Orion in 2014 and the SLS in 2017 -- NASA will use the budget to fund the Commercial Crew Program. The goal of that program is to develop commercial transport for crews traveling to and from LEO.
The money will also go toward sustaining operations and research aboard the International Space Station (ISS), construction of the James Webb Space Telescope -- scheduled for deployment in 2018 -- and supporting a new Mars rover mission due to launch in 2020, among other initiatives.
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