Bolden courts Asian powerhouses for asteroid missions

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NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is continuing his attempts to gain additional international collaboration for the Agency’s Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) aspirations. Following a meeting with the head of JAXA, the Administrator then met with the President of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). No deals were signed as a result of the meetings.

NASA and the Asian Countries:

The Agency welcomed the leaders of both the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to Washington DC this month, covering a wide range of subjects relating to collaboration.

Kibo on the ISSThe meeting with JAXA, which took place on July 10, brought together two of the space agencies that have been working closely together with the International Space Station (ISS).

The Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) – also known with the Kibo – is steeped in Shuttle legacy, after involving the missions STS-123, STS-124 and STS-127 during the Station assembly flights.

Japan’s own cargo resupply ship – the HTV (H-II Transfer Vehicle) – is currently preparing for its fourth mission to the orbital outpost, with launch scheduled for Saturday, August 3.

“NASA has enjoyed a long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship with Japan in space exploration activities and we look forward to further discussions about our asteroid initiative,” General Bolden noted.

“We currently have more than 35 active agreements with JAXA in human spaceflight, Earth science, space science, and aeronautics, making Japan one of the agency’s leading partners in civil space cooperation.”

SLS and OrionWith one eye firmly focused on the future, General Bolden also promoted NASA’s plans to utilize the first two missions with the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, culminating in the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission (ARCM).

Redefined plans call for 2017’s Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) to send an uncrewed Orion on a test flight near to a location tens of thousands of miles past the Moon, a location that a 2019 mission – utilizing an Asteroid Retrieval Spacecraft (ARS) – is expected to haul a small asteroid towards.

Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2) would then launch a crew of two astronauts to meet up and conduct EVAs on the asteroid.

The NASA head discussed these plans with JAXA President Naoki Okumura, who welcomed the opportunity to discuss JAXA’s potential contribution based on experience through its Hayabusa asteroid sample return mission.

Hayabusa MissionHayabusa was an unmanned spacecraft, developed by JAXA, for the return of a material sample to Earth from a small near-Earth asteroid named 25143 Itokawa.

Following launch in May 2003, the spacecraft rendezvoused with Itokawa just over two years later. After a few months of observations, Hayabusa landed on its surface and collected samples of the asteroidal material, which were returned to Earth aboard the spacecraft in June of 2010.

On Monday, General Bolden then met with the President of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Seung Jo Kim, to discuss collaboration in aeronautics research and space exploration, including KARI’s robotic lunar mission.

According to a NASA presser on what was the first meeting between the two leaders, Kim welcomed the chance to discuss opportunities for collaboration per NASA’s asteroid initiative.

Capturing an asteroid “Our two agencies share a mutual interest in aeronautics research, and have identified opportunities for collaboration,” added General Bolden.

“We also have partnered for several years in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group and are looking forward to continued discussions on potential cooperation in space exploration.”

Although no new deals have been signed between NASA and the two Asian countries, international collaboration is fast becoming the key ingredient for enabling NASA’s technically challenging and hugely expensive exploration missions.

The US Agency already has agreements in place with the ESA member states for the opening two SLS/Orion missions, with the Europeans providing hardware and technology from their Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) for use as the bulk of Orion’s Service Module.

ATV SM on OrionThe ATV-derived service module – sporting a NASA supplied Orbital Manuevering System Engine (OME) – will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and gas to the astronauts in the habitable module.

The ATV solar arrays will also feature, giving the Orion/SM configuration the X-wing appearance – a change from the circular arrays that were previously employed by the NASA spacecraft.

The ESA deal included a surprise injection of cash from the UK government, which in turn greased the wheels for Major Timothy Peake to be assigned with a mission to the ISS in the middle of the decade.

(Images: NASA, JAXA, ESA).

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