NASA Seeks Robotic Spacecraft to Help It Move an Asteroid

PHOTO: Once the boulder is secured, the ARV will mechanically push off, or "hop," from the surface and then use thrusters to ascend from the asteroids surface.NASA
Once the boulder is secured, the ARV will mechanically push off, or "hop," from the surface and then use thrusters to ascend from the asteroid's surface.

NASA is seeking designs for an unmanned spacecraft to help it pull off an ambitious mission to move part of an asteroid into orbit around the moon.

The space agency had considered attempting to capture an entire asteroid, but instead said in March it would pluck a 13-foot boulder from one during an unmanned space mission set for 2020. The mission is expected to help test new technologies that could be used on a manned mission to Mars.

While the request is for ideas, NASA said it isn't ready yet for a formal procurement offer from the government.

In 2025, the space agency said it would then send two astronauts inside the Orion space capsule to explore the mini-asteroid.

According to NASA's plan, the astronauts would take a spacewalk on the rock, documenting its surface and grabbing a fragment to bring back to Earth.

The ambitious mission is a crucial test for the space agency as it prepares to one day send a crew to Mars.

During the five year Asteroid Redirect Mission, NASA is expected to gain more insight into robotic grabbing technologies, soft landings and allow astronauts to test suits that could be used for a deep space mission.

NASA said in March it likely will not announce which asteroid it has targeted to be a part of the plan until 2019.