Asteroid return mission feasibility study

John R. Brophy, Robert Gershman, Damon Landau, James Polk, Chris Porter, Don Yeomans, Carlton Allen, Willie Williams, Erik Asphaug

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

27 Scopus citations


This paper describes an investigation into the technological feasibility of finding, characterizing, robotically capturing, and returning an entire Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) to the International Space Station (ISS) for scientific investigation, evaluation of its resource potential, determination of its internal structure and other aspects important for planetary defense activities, and to serve as a testbed for human operations in the vicinity of an asteroid. Reasonable projections suggest that several dozen candidates NEAs in the size range of interest (~2-m diameter) will be known before the end of the decade from which a suitable target could be selected. The conceptual mission objective is to return a ~10,000-kg asteroid to the ISS in a total flight time of approximately 5 years using a single Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle. Preliminary calculations indicate that this could be accomplished using a solar electric propulsion (SEP) system with high-power Hall thrusters and a maximum power into the propulsion system of approximately 40 kW. The SEP system would be used to provide all of the post-launch {increment}V. The selected asteroid would have an unrestricted Earth return Planetary Protection categorization, and would be curated at the ISS where numerous scientific and resource utilization experiments would be conducted. Asteroid material brought to the ground would be curated at the NASA Johnson Space Center. This preliminary study identified several areas where additional work is required, but no show stoppers were identified for the approach that would return an entire 10,000-kg asteroid to the ISS in a mission that could be launched by the end of this decade.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit 2011
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit 2011 - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: Jul 31 2011Aug 3 2011

Publication series

Name47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit 2011


Other47th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Asteroid return mission feasibility study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this