Despite taking on a $150 million increase in cost, the planned Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will now be able to move the next phase of its development after receiving approval from NASA.
The American space agency said on Monday, Aug. 15, that it has cleared the review of the ARM's robot element called the Key Decision Point B (KDP-B).
According to NASA, it increased the cost cap for the mission from the initial $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion because of an earlier decision to delay the ARM's launch by another year, setting it up for December 2021. The agency's new estimate, however, still doesn't include the cost of the ARM's launch and operation.
During a meeting of NASA's Advisory Council in July, NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier hinted that the Asteroid Redirect Mission's cost could possibly increase. He said that while their goal is still to work within the effective budget, the one-year delay in the mission schedule could result in higher costs.
ARM's Launch Delay
In its statement regarding the KDP-B's review, NASA said it chose to delay the launch to incorporate the agency's acquisition of robotic spacecraft development into the ARM's schedule.
However, Gerstenmaier revealed that they had to push out the schedule of the program because of a shortfall in funding. This in turn caused the overall increase of the mission cost.
He explained that it is a typical problem that they face in the agency, where they propose a project with a funding profile but are not given the necessary funds to start. This ends up lengthening the duration of the mission overall.
Gerstenmaier said having to stretch out the mission schedule forces an increase in program costs.
At the NASA Advisory Council meeting last month, Gerstenmaier said they were considering whether it was possible to keep the cost of the ARM's robotic element well within the initial cap by removing other aspects of the mission.
NASA's approval of the KDP-B review despite the increase in cost, however, provides no indication that the agency made other changes to the program.
Capturing A Boulder From An Asteroid
As part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, NASA will deploy a spacecraft to a nearby asteroid to collect a large rock sample from its surface using the robotic segment. The spacecraft will then take the boulder-sized sample to the Moon's orbit.
A team of astronauts will then be sent out to where the asteroid sample is located to study it. This will be done as part of an Orion mission slated to occur sometime in 2026. NASA hopes that such missions will provide astronauts with enough experience on deep space travel.