as Deep Space Probes
There are many small, mid and big asteroids that have their elliptical orbits so close to Earth that (someday) could become a big risk for our planet (one of them ran between Earth and Moon just a few years ago) but they are also very intersting objects studied with telescopes and probes.
Once the new Orion will fly, NASA plans to send (maybe, after 2020) some manned vehicles to land and explore the asteroids.
My opinion is that these kind of manned missions are too much complex, expensive and risky for the astronauts, while they are (also) completely USELESS, since the asteroids don't have the interesting structure and chemistry of the comets, but, are just (or mainly) "rocks" that a (very risky) manned mission can't explore so much better than a robotic probe (at a fraction of the cost and with zero risks).
While the asteroids are not so interesting to send manned mission they are very interesting as "natural deep space probes" since they can fly in the Solar System without any "propellent" nor "engine".
That's why they could be used as "vehicles" for all robotic probes sent in the Solar System without use several tons of propellent (to launch them to their interplanetary orbits) then thanks to the giant propellent mass saved each probe could be two-three times bigger and with two-three times the exploration instruments than now.
Without the asteroids, we can send only a few, small, probes in deep space, while, if we join our robotic probes to the asteroids (when they run close to Earth) they will fly for DECADES in the Solar System at zero costs.
Of course, these asteroid probes must be built to work 20, 30, 40 years or more (with an high systems' redundancy) must have a protection for very low temperatures and a long time nuclear energy source.
Copyright © Gaetano Marano - All rights reserved