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Video Friday: SHEPARD Novel System for Safe Asteroid Capture

“This is an animated depiction of the novel SHEPHERD spacecraft concept on a mission to gently stop a small asteroid from spinning and guide it into a different orbit by enclosing the target asteroid in a sealed fabric enclosure. Once captured, SHEPHERD introduces a one tenth atmosphere of Xenon gas to de-spin the asteroid and then blows Xenon gas at the asteroid to gently impart momentum (and an orbital change) to the object while matching the relative position of the spacecraft with thrust from it’s solar electric propulsion engine. In this way SHEPHERD can securely handle and drive even a fragile, pristine and ancient asteroid to its destination. This mission is to release the asteroid in Lunar orbit for a human crew to approach and collect samples for science. Fragile materials may be common in space, but don’t survive as meteorites. Such small asteroids have physical properties important to understand for mitigating against Chelyabinsk-like impacts as well as furthering our understanding of how the solar system formed and giving us source materials to study possible ways life may have originated. Further variants of SHEPHERD could make asteroid mining possible by protecting the spacecraft against loose rubble and dust, and be used to extract minerals through gas electrodeposition. In addition, future SHEPHERD craft could encapsulate, heat and extract volatiles from icy objects to create spacecraft refuelling stations and also entrapping liquid water as a pool to farm biological resources. SHEPHERD may therefore hold some of the keys to achieving sustainable spaceflight. The SHEPHERD team includes: Peter Jenniskens, Bruce Damer, Julian Nott, Stuart Pilotz, Bryant Grigsby, Constance Adams, Brad Blair, and animation by Ryan Norkus.

The animation was produced by DigitalSpace Research.”