NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver made a surprise appearance yesterday morning at the opening session of the Planetary Defense Conference 2013 in Flagstaff, Arizona (she said she had planned to attend months ago, but her appearance was only formalized relatively late and not included in the agenda for the session.) She provided an overview of NASA’s FY14 budget proposal in general, with a particular focus on the agency’s new asteroid initiative, something of particular interest to attendees.
Afterwards, Garver was asked what role new private ventures with an interest in asteroids, like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, would have with the initiative. “That’s a really important aspect of this,” she said. “When Planetary Resources was founded a few months ago, and following on that Deep Space Industries, I could not have been happier” because it demonstrated there was interest in asteroids beyond NASA. (Planetary Resources actually formally announced its plans almost a year ago; Deep Space Industries followed in January.) She added that NASA’s planned additional $20-million investment in asteroid detection efforts was not intended to be competitive with the B612 Foundation’s Sentinel mission.
Garver said NASA would hold a workshop in the “June timeframe” to look how to best leverage the NASA investment and that the agency was open to tools like data buys and prizes to get information on identifying asteroids that could be potential targets of the proposed NASA mission. “We believe there are a lot of innovative ways, just like we are doing in other aspects of NASA” to support agency goals, she said.
Her comments came just a few days after one of the principals of one asteroid resource company expressed hope that NASA would partner with industry. “We’re looking forward to a partnership with NASA. There’s a lot the private sector can bring to this game,” Rick Tumlinson, chairman of the board of Deep Space Industries, said at the Space Access ’13 conference in Phoenix on April 11. “A correctly structured program to bring an asteroid into lunar orbit may be based on the COTS model, where we had a cooperative venture leading to a pay-for-services model. It might work very well in this case.”