Space News is reporting that NASA is proceeding with the closing out of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The Trump administration canceled the project in its 2018 budget proposal. Congress does not seem to be inclined to save the program. So the ARM joins the host of other unrealized NASA missions that fell to the budget ax before they had a chance to fly.

What killed the Asteroid Redirect Mission?

The origin of the Asteroid Redirect Mission stems from a throwaway line from then President Barack Obama’s infamous Kennedy Space Center speech in which he proposed a crewed mission to an Earth-approaching asteroid as a substitute to the return to the moon that he had just canceled.

The proposal was not a serious one, as the president did not propose enough money to pay for it.

The ARM was suggested as a way to do the asteroid mission on the cheap. The idea was to move an asteroid into lunar orbit and then visit it with a crew of astronauts flying in an Orion spacecraft. The proposal then morphed into snatching a large boulder from the surface of an asteroid, moving it to lunar orbit, and then visiting it. NASA justified the mission because it claimed that it would test technologies for the Journey to Mars, especially an advanced Solar Electric Propulsion unit.

However, the asteroid mission failed to garner any support outside NASA. Congress was decidedly cool to the idea, even though it kept funding for ARM.

The scientific community had a significant lack of enthusiasm, not seeing any benefit in the mission aside from giving NASA something to do before the future mission to Mars.

What happens next?

Some of the technologies that were being developed for the ARM, particularly solar electric propulsion, will continue to be developed.

NASA will also allocate some money for asteroid detection and deflection programs which have the support of the scientific community.

NASA’s plans for deep space exploration are in a state of flux. Rumors abound that the Trump administration is aiming for an early return to the moon, but no official announcement has been made.

On the other hand, private asteroid missions are being developed. With the prospect of mining trillions of dollars in minerals, companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are developing ways to reach Earth-approaching asteroids. China is thinking of its own ARM mission, with the hope of asteroid mining. A mission could be sent to divert an asteroid to lunar orbit or a high Earth orbit, but it would likely be conducted for monetary profit rather than science and technology.