Investigations of Earth's Trojan asteroids will have benefits for science, exploration, and resource utilization. By sending a small spacecraft to the Sun-Earth L4 or L5 Lagrange points to investigate near-Earth objects, Earth's Trojan population can be better understood. This could lead to future missions for larger precursor spacecraft as well as human missions. The presence of objects in the Sun-Earth L4 and L5 Lagrange points has long been suspected, and in 2010 NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) detected a 300 m object. To investigate these Earth Trojan asteroid objects, it is both essential and feasible to send spacecraft to these regions. By exploring a wide field area, a small spacecraft equipped with an IR camera could hunt for Trojan asteroids and other Earth co-orbiting objects at the L4 or L5 Lagrange points in the near-term. By surveying the region, a zeroth-order approximation of the number of objects could be obtained with some rough constraints on their diameters, which may lead to the identification of potential candidates for further study. This would serve as a precursor for additional future robotic and human exploration targets. Depending on the inclination of these potential objects, they could be used as proving areas for future missions in the sense that the delta-V's to get to these targets are relatively low as compared to other rendezvous missions. They can serve as platforms for extended operations in deep space while interacting with a natural object in microgravity. Theoretically, such low inclination Earth Trojan asteroids exist. By sending a spacecraft to L4 or L5, these likely and potentially accessible targets could be identified.
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Lunar and Planetary Science Conference; 16-20 Mar. 2015; The Woodlands, TX; United States