In-Space Resource Recovery

The VASIMR® propulsion technology can be efficiently applied to move or otherwise transport asteroids. One case study proposes to trasport the known 1300 metric asteroid, (2008HU4), a near-Earth asteroid (NEA), from its present position to a high lunar orbit using our high-power solar electric propulsion (SEP) space tug. The mission architecture is based on the recent Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) asteroid retrieval study; but, instead of using a cluster of five Hall thrusters, working at 40 kW total power, it considers a VASIMR® propulsion system operating at power levels ranging from 100 kW to 400 kW and argon propellant. (see table below).

Concept of a 200 kW VASIMR® engine adapted to the KISS study NEA retrieval module

The Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) study produced a 10-year mission, costing $2.6B in 2012 dollars, which does not account for the cost of the propellant nor the time value money. Including these additional expenses over a 10 year mission would result in a significant increase over the present estimate. An increase in vehicle power results in lower overall cost and a faster delivery. A 255 kW VASIMR® engine produces the best improvement with minimal total mission cost. The VASIMR® propulsion system with its electrode-less design (expected to reduce component wear and increase lifetime), high power density, range of specific impulse, and power scalability make this technology an attractive option for a wide range of missions. 

Mission trajectory analysis and rough cost model, including the time value of money, assessing the effects of VASIMR® technology using various input power levels for the KISS study NEA retrieval mission.