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Arkansas Researchers Looking For A Few Good Asteroids

University of Arkansas researchers are seeking a few good asteroids for a space mission, and they need information about these planetary bodies from scientists who study them to determine which ones make the best-suited candidates for the study.

"With improved technology, we are swamped with the discovery of near-Earth asteroids," said Derek Sears, director of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for Space and Planetary Sciences. "What we need now is some ground-based data to help select possible asteroids for this mission."

The mission, dubbed Hera after the mother of the Three Graces, would send a spacecraft to three near-Earth asteroids, collect material from them and return it to Earth for research purposes. The researchers plan to propose the mission to NASA within the next 12 months.

Leon Gefert of NASA's Glenn Research Center has calculated about 60 possible trajectories for the mission, where the spacecraft would follow a path to collect samples from the three asteroids and then return to Earth.

>From this data, Sears and his colleagues have created a "hot list" of asteroids that appear more than once in these trajectories, and now they are seeking information about them.

The researchers need spectral information to determine which trio of asteroids might prove most scientifically interesting, and information about the asteroids' orbits around the sun to determine the most efficient travel path to keep fuel expenditures low.

Other information essential to the mission includes the asteroid's size, shape and rotation state. This will help determine where the spacecraft might land on the asteroid and how it would obtain sample material, Sears said.

The researchers are also combing international databases containing information about known near-Earth asteroids for information pertinent to their mission.

Sears presented his request for information at a recent meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Rome. - By Melissa Blouin

Related website:

"Hot List" and more information on project

[Contact: Derek Sears, Melissa Blouin]






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