The space agency might be strapped for cash, but NASA always keeps a few bucks available to fund some moon-shot research. Well, this could be one of the coolest ideas in years.
As part of the National Innovative Advanced Concepts awards, NASA has kicked in approximately $100,000 to 13 different projects, ranging from a smart-spacecraft designed to burn up space junk to a proposal to use microbes to process old electronics and turn them into reusable raw materials. But it’s the “Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata” (Project RAMA) that really caught our eye.
Put simply, the proposal will test out the feasibility of using analog computers and mechanisms to convert entire asteroids into enormous autonomous mechanical spacecraft. According to NASA, Project RAMA is designed to leverage the advancing trends of additive manufacturing (AM) and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) to enable asteroid rendezvous missions for simple robotic processes to convert asteroid elements into very basic versions of spacecraft subsystems (i.e. propulsion, avionics, etc.).
The end goal would be to use this tech to potentially relocate an asteroid to become an Earth-Moon station for human rendezvous, or even to redirect an asteroid that could potentially be on course to hit the planet. Build an engine onto that rock, and you can reprogram it to fly into the sun. Looking even further beyond that, an asteroid could certainly have a ton of usable material to convert into a full-on interstellar spacecraft, too, right?
The concept is still in the early stages, but NASA believes it could be on a 20-30 year plan toward potential viability. Project RAMA was developed by Jason Dunn, co-founder of Made In Space, which developed the 3D printer that's aboard the ISS.