Asteroids are smaller objects orbiting the Sun, left over from the process of planetary formation. As they are relatively unchanged since the formation of the Solar system, they provide a snapshot of what chemicals were present prior to the emergence of life on Earth. They also might play an important role in the future development of life on Earth due to the potential of catastrophic collisions. Also, asteroids potentially contain valuable resources for in situ resource utilization. Still, despite great interest, the information on asteroids is very limited, mainly because detailed information requires proximity operations and sending spacecraft near asteroids is expensive. At the moment, this is changing due to the emergence of nanosatellite technology: small probes (a few kg range) could be sent to asteroids at a greatly reduced cost, either independently or inside an asteroid-inspecting mother spacecraft (such as the COPINS payload of ESA and NASA's Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission). Since the technology is relatively new, payload concepts and their applicability is yet to be evaluated. In this project we will study methods for mapping an asteroid using an orbiting probe or a fly-by to collect as much data as possible about asteroid composition, including the presence of organics and bioprecursors. Professor Seager's workgroup at the MIT is one of the world leaders in astrobiology and is expanding into asteroid studies, also they are participating in a proposal to study concepts for the COPINS payload. The payload concepts would be based of optical spectroscopy of biomolecules, on which the applicant wrote his Ph. D. thesis, combined with imaging and reconstruction, and experiences gained in the ESTCube-1 nanosatellite project will be leveraged. If successful, the project would provide the tools to study the early conditions for life in the solar system, assess asteroid parameters for planetary defense, and prospect for valuable asteroid resources.
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