The US space agency has narrowed its hunt for an asteroid to capture to three, NASA said Wednesday. The asteroids fit the requirements of being between seven to 10 meters (yards) in size, and further study should be able to narrow the choice even more, scientists said at a conference in San Diego, California.
“We have two to three which we will characterize in the next year and if all goes well… those will be valid candidates that could be certified targets,” said Paul Chodas, senior scientist at the NASA Near-Earth Object Program Office.
The plan is to send a robotic spacecraft to capture the asteroid and drag it into orbit around the Moon. Once there, astronauts could visit the asteroid and take samples of it back to Earth for study. The spacecraft used for travel there and back would be the Orion multi-purpose vehicle, which is being built but has not yet been used, as well as a new deep space rocket launcher. The program aims to break new ground by increasing NASA capabilities beyond low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station circles the globe. Via NASA identifies three potential asteroids for capture.