A precursor robotic mission would be required in order to maximize crew safety and efficiency of mission operations at any candidate NEO. Precursor mission objectives include:
- Characterization of the target asteroid for mission planning
- Basic reconnaissance to assess potential hazards that may pose a risk to both vehicle and crew
- Preliminary determination of NEO target’s surface morphology, gravitational field structure, rotation rate, pole orientation, mass/density estimates, and general mineral composition
- Identification of potential hazards to the CEV (and any of its deployable assets) such as the presence of satellites, or non-benign surface morphologies, which may not be detectable from previous ground-based observations
- Assessment of potential terrains for planning future proximity operations and sample collection by the CEV and its assets (crew/payload)
- Assistance in Orion spacecraft navigation to the NEO by deploying transponder to surface, or by station keeping
As new telescopes come on line in the next few years, and/or as an expanded survey by NASA gets underway, the number of new NEOs detected is expected to grow exponentially. Depending upon their orbital parameters and geometries (relative to Earth), these newly discovered NEOs offer many targets for a visit using the Ares launch vehicles and Orion spacecraft, demonstrating and validating an early interplanetary capability of the Constellation hardware.