Feb 21 2015

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List of reasons why ARM might be worth doing

It’s a pretty weak list, but here it is:

1. Adding a new, even more accessible “moon” to the Earth-moon system
2. Providing an ideal testbed for asteroid in situ resource utilization (ISRU) development.
3. Providing a much larger sample quantity to work with than other existing or proposed missions.
4. Providing a good way of testing out a man-tended deep-space habitat.
5. Demonstrating large-scale solar electric propulsion (SEP) systems.
6. Demonstrating planetary defense techniques.
7. Developing technologies for a Phobos/Deimos large sample return.
8. Providing the beginnings of a lunar gateway.
9. Providing more experience with on-asteroid operations.
10. Leaving something permanent.

As I said, a pretty weak list. The author himself makes the case against 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8 by stating:

It turns out that getting to and from lunar DRO, and to the lunar surface from a lunar DRO, isn’t massively different from getting to and from Earth-moon L1 or L2. The orbital dynamics are a bit more complex but the propellant and travel times are relatively similar.

So…anything that you can do on the ARM asteroid is probably better done on the Moon or from a Lagrange point. #5 is a subset of #6. I could buy #9, except why fund NASA to do this when Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources are going to do this on their own dime? And I don’t get why we care about #10.

I conclude, then, that the only real reason (besides boondoggling NASA) to conduct the ARM mission is to demonstrate one planetary defense technique. Otherwise, we’d be better served by conducting long-duration lunar missions.

Then I read at the bottom of the article: “Jonathan Goff is president and chief executive of Altius Space Machines”, and it turns out that, Per Wikipedia’s Altius Space Machines page:

Other work includes the “Kraken Asteroid Boulder Retrieval System.” In late 2014, Altius expects to test prototypes of grasping arms and non-force-closure gripper concepts for capturing a boulder off the surface of an asteroid. The study is funded by NASA as part of their broader Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) project, and is intended to mature system concepts and key technologies while assessing the feasibility of potential commercial partnerships for ARM.

So the author has a vested interest in keeping ARM funded, which explains this weak-assed attempt to make ARM seem worthwhile.

Always look at the source. If I were NASA, I’d tell Mr. Goff, “Don’t do us any favors.”

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/02/21/list-of-reasons-why-arm-might-be-worth-doing/


  1. ben

    Mr. McKay, with all due respect, I know Jon personally, and can vouch for his sterling ethics. His arguments may or may not hold water, may or may not be arguable, but what is not arguable, IMHO, is his motivation for putting forth the argument. I know the kind of man Jon is, I know his level of commitment to space development, and I can guarantee that his motivations are not self serving.

    Before impugning Jon’s character, you might have asked him your questions directly. Otherwise, your blog entry above is nothing but a dishonorable and cowardly ad hominem attack on a man well respected in the New Space community. Shame on you, sir. I would have expected better from an Officer of the United States Navy and an Academy Graduate.

    With respect,
    Ben Reytblat.

    1. dcmckay3

      Thank you for establishing my bona fides in ethics as a US Naval Academy grad and US Naval Officer who honorably served.

      An author with sterling ethics would have established his connection to ARM in his article. I’m sure, as a contractor to the program, he has a unique perspective — some of which he could have shared with the reader in a great article. Instead, we got an advocacy piece for a very controversial program from an author who is vested in ARM yet omitted any connection to ARM in his article.

      That’s a Conflict of Interest, plain and simple. An author with “sterling ethics” would have easily recognized this and mitigated it within the article.

      I stand by my post. Thank you for reading.

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