The probe, which is provisionally scheduled to launch in 2020, will latch on to a boulder from the surface of the asteroid using robotic arms, before departing with the boulder and returning to a cis-lunar orbit. A manned mission will then meet up with the orbiting probe in 2025 and astronauts will collect samples from the captured rock to take back to Earth for analysis.
The ambitious project, budgeted at around $1.25 billion, sounds like a storyline from a Hollywood movie, but if it goes ahead (no guarantees of that yet), it will be an excellent opportunity for NASA to test new technologies and techniques that will be needed for future manned deep space missions such as to Mars, while also learning more about asteroids and how to defend the Earth against them.
Take a look at this excellent video of the project – it really is pretty “sci-fi” and I’m loving the dramatic music that goes with it!
(Video courtesy of NASA)