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Asteroid Fishing: NASA Will Attempt Catch and Release

Jun 19, 2014 05:17 PM EDT

NASA plans to send out a robotic spacecraft to hunt down and capture an asteroid. Once caught, the asteroid will be brought into a stable orbit around the Moon, where it can freely float until astronauts head out to study it in person at a later date.

Agency officials announced Thursday that organizers spearheading the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) plan to launch an asteroid catching spacecraft as early as 2019, and will select the quarry for this hunt within the next four years.

However, before this mission can come to fruition, there is a decently long list of factors the ARM team still has to address. For one, they haven't decided how exactly they are going to do it.

"[We are] working on two concepts for the mission: the first is to fully capture a very small asteroid in open space, and the second is to collect a boulder-sized sample off of a much larger asteroid," the agency explained.

According to the Thursday announcement, NASA has crowd sourced for conceptual ideas to tackle this endeavor, awarding a total of $4.9 million to scientific teams who want to conduct relevant studies that address the challenges of the asteroid mission.

Study proposals were submitted last March, and the NASA funded studies will start this July. The agency has demanded that they be concluded within half a year's time.

"By investing in these studies, NASA will gain valuable insight into affordable ways to perform the Asteroid Redirect Mission while also advancing technologies needed to drive future exploration missions," James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA, said in a statement.

NASA officials hope this initiative will present the ARM team with enough information to make a final decision as to which strategy they will employ before 2015.

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