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China Space Science

Chinese Want To Capture an Asteroid 481

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-could-go-wrong? dept.
geekmansworld writes "The Chinese want to capture an asteroid into earth's orbit and mine it. From the article: 'At first glance, nudging an asteroid closer to Earth seems like one of those "what could possible go wrong" scenarios that we generally try and avoid, and for good reason: large asteroid impacts are bad times. The Chinese, though, seem fairly optimistic that they could tweak the orbit of a near-Earth asteroid by just enough (a change in velocity of only about 1,300 feet-per-second or so) to get it to temporarily enter Earth orbit at about twice the distance as the Moon.'"
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Chinese Want To Capture an Asteroid

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  • by Tekfactory (937086) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @12:34PM (#37266556) Homepage

    Why don't they park it in a Lagrange point?

    So it can be JUST AS far away as the moon.

    • I thought the Onion already reported that Kim Jong Il has much more ambitious plans to capture the moon [youtube.com] already? It's already in the zone, we just need a bunch of rockets to fly it down to North Korea, right?

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Why don't they just crash it into the Gobi?

      If it's not planet-killer class, or even climate-disruptor class, and they bring it in on the right trajectory (from behind, please), to minimize the delta-v, they'd turn a wasteland into a (possibly literal) goldmine.

      And there's prior art in nature. The meteor that created Meteor Crater [meteorcrater.com] was made of elemental iron, and the people who currently own it (yes, it's private property) are related to the people who staked the mining claim and attempted to find the meteor

  • by poity (465672) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @12:34PM (#37266558)

    It's a research paper. It's 2 guys looking at the possibility for the sake of their course grade/diploma. It doesn't mean there's a plan, or a will, or even a wish. Come on editors, click through your links and understand your articles before approving crappy summaries.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And that will sell more ads how?

      • By keeping people from migrating to another tech site as soon as a serious contender appears (esp now that Taco is gone).

        I already left Digg years ago when it became unbearable, and if slashdot gets bad enough Ill just leave it. Its already at the point where, with every article, im trying to see if i can guess what the article is actually about by reading past a summary that I know is inaccurate. Its kind of like a game, and if I can guess what spin was applied I win!

        • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @01:43PM (#37267606)

          I think its a little late for that. Reddit is the defacto geek hangout and its technology and programming subreddits are a zillion more times interesting than the stuff that gets posted here, and the stuff here is usually 3-12 hours behind anyway. Hacker News is where I got for smart discussions anyway.

          Slashdot is just nostalgia at this point. I visit but its back burner stuff at best.

    • by cultiv8 (1660093)
      FTA:

      A particularly good candidate is a 10-meter object called 2008EA9 which will pass within a million kilometres or so of Earth in 2049.

      It might be a theoretical research paper, but isn't that how most projects start?

      But let's just assume that these Chinese science dudes know exactly what they're doing and that they'll be able at some point to nudge one of these huge asteroids into temporary Earth orbit... they estimate that a two-kilometer-wide metallic asteroid (about 1.2 miles across) could be worth something like 25 trillion dollars

      I'm sure they'll get funding from somewhere to continue research if 25,000,000,000,000 is on the line...

      • by onepoint (301486)

        well then let's run some quick Idea's. :

        Where I mention Today's Cost, please use a compound return to the future adjust for an inflation rate of 3.5%

        by 2025 ( not that far off ). Solar power cells should be around 20% - 25% conversion rate for space application.
        I would think that the cost would be at today's cost plus a 3.5% inflation rate ( someone give us a cost )
        the weight should be roughly half of today's weight

        Big enough devices to sail/motor/fly to the asteroid think of the Russian rocket's used for V

      • Increasing the supply of something generally lowers the price. Plus, it is still pretty expensive to get a factory into space. It would not make anywhere near that amount of money.

        • True enough, but it could still make a lot of money. Say enough metal gets dumped on the market to drive the price down by a factor of five, so it's worth "only" $5 trillion instead of $25 trillion. And suppose the entire program costs $4 trillion (which is more money by far than every country on Earth combined has spent on space exploration to date.) That's still a trillion dollars worth of pure profit. Not to mention that whatever country actually manages to pull this off would get the benefit of havi

      • by Baloroth (2370816)
        25 trillion dollars? What the hell is it made of, pure Unobtanium?
      • by KarrdeSW (996917)

        I'm sure they'll get funding from somewhere to continue research if 25,000,000,000,000 is on the line...

        The assumption from TFA is that we could only manage to keep an asteroid of that size in earth orbit for a couple years before it breaks away and drifts off. Considering $25 trillion is a bit less than half of the world's current annual GDP, I'm not sure you could feasibly invest in and develop an enterprise that could mine off that much raw material within the couple years we have it. And even then, it's unlikely to be worth the investment if you have to redirect the majority of the world's resources jus

    • by davmoo (63521)

      Slashdot would not be Slashdot without the crappy summaries and all the comments by people who obviously did not RTFA.

  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @12:36PM (#37266580) Homepage Journal
    You want to get the U.S. federal government and military to invest in a technology like space mining? Tell them that China is going to be pulling an asteroid, essentially an orbital continental bomb, into Earth orbit in a controlled manner to "mine" it. I gaurantee you the DoD will start modding the OTV and any other space assets it has to wrangle some of their own asteroid "mines" into Earth orbit as well, conveniently positioned in an orbit that allows an impact point on top of China in the event of a de-orbit.
  • by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @12:37PM (#37266586) Homepage Journal

    What resource is of a high enough value to warrant the extreme costs of mining it in space and returning it to earth? The article just says "mining". Rare earth metals are about the only thing I can think of. Even something like diamonds (assuming they even exist in asteroids) wouldn't be worthwhile, because if you brought back a huge load of them then the value of diamonds as a global market will decrease because of the massive supply.

    • by Hooya (518216)

      > Even something like diamonds..

      You may want to read the first line under this section: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamonds_as_an_investment#Financial_feasibility [wikipedia.org]

      The price you see for diamonds are because of controlled supply - NOT a limited supply. And you can thank these fine folks:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Beers#Legal_issues_on_monopolizing_and_fixing_prices [wikipedia.org]

    • Even diamonds it'd be cheaper to just make them here. It would have to be rare elements, as any alloy or compound would be cheaper to just make ourselves.

      Unless you want to use the result in space itself, of course. Then you are comparing the cost of sending up the mining and manufacturing equipment vs. the cost of sending up the material itself.

      Then of course is the question of whether the Moon might be a better mine: It won't take as much cost to get it to be in a usable location, and it's easier to man

    • Think on a very big amount of easy to extract iridium, platinum, many and many iron, manganese, titanium, and many others metals rare on earth but easy to find on metallic asteroids (many of the iron mines of the world are ancient asteroid impact sites). Minning asteroids is still a bad idea? And we have the tech (geostationary satellites), the actual problem is only how to scale to something big as a asteroid.
      • Damn, I forgot the most important reason to search as soon as mining asteroids: You are thinking only of the financial part of the idea... You can not build cars, airplanes and spacecraft with money, you need the metal that money buys. Banks can create money from the vacuum (debts are money), but anyone can create metals from the vacuum.
      • Sure, illegal interception of the intergalactic parcel post is a nice entry to the rest of the universe!

        Wait till the Zargons come around looking for their bundle of palladium and naquadah, and we've not even made parole since last time (whatever it was we did to the sphinx or something).

    • Re:Economic worth (Score:4, Informative)

      by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @12:57PM (#37266910)

      What resource is of a high enough value to warrant the extreme costs of mining it in space and returning it to earth?

      Whyever would you return the output of your mine to Earth?

      The primary value of a bug chunk of rock and metal in orbit is that it's cheaper to make things from it than to haul the same amount of metal into space.

      Right now, one of our big limiters on space activity is that we have to move EVERYTHING out of a deep gravity well to get it into space at all. If we can eliminate the need to move, say, the structural mass of a solar power satellite into orbit, we can reduce the cost of solar power satellites by an order of magnitude or three.

      Ditto anything else we want up there....

    • RTFA -- it is made of Unobtainium!. See http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=unobtanium [urbandictionary.com]
    • Well, if you can nudge it close enough to earth you can mine it right here on earth!
  • Crash it on the moon instead, then mine the heck out of it. Or else orbit it around the moon and push the ore back to Earth.

    Realistically, though, this stuff is going to need a space elevator [spaceelevator.com] to economically get the ore back down to Earth.

    I used to believe those nations who control the skies will be the top powers, but now I think more likely it's those nations or corporations that control the ladders up to the skies that will really hold all the cards.
    • by larkost (79011)

      Getting stuff down is not going to be a real problem. If we are talking about mining metals then you could go ultra-simple and just make a big ingot and then carefully shoot it at a desolate area (like the Mongolian steps). Shoot a number of (refined in space and uniformly finished) chunks at an area, then wait until they have cooled enough and go and get them. You would lose some of the materials from the re-entry heating, but that probably would wind up as a rounding error on a balance sheet.

      You could eve

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Getting stuff down is not going to be a real problem. If we are talking about mining metals then you could go ultra-simple and just make a big ingot and then carefully shoot it at a desolate area (like the Mongolian steps).

        Why not just eliminate the hassle and crash the asteroid there? Hiring Monoglians to mine the asteroid on Earth will be a lot cheaper than sending astronauts to mine it in space.

        Of course that rather demonstrates the insanity of the idea; we have lots and lots of rocks on Earth already. Unless the asteroid is known to have some rare elements in significant concentrations you'll find many better places to dig right here.

    • to economically ^W get the ore back down to Earth.

      That's just silly talk. Obviously a big part of the value of this material is that it is already in space.

    • by vux984 (928602)

      I used to believe those nations who control the skies will be the top powers, but now I think more likely it's those nations or corporations that control the ladders up to the skies that will really hold all the cards.

      Your ladder isn't going to be worth much if someone else can knock it down. Controlling the skies will continue to be the key... you control who gets to have a ladder.

  • I think the interesting point is to have these resources in orbit. so this can be used the build space ships or a really big station.
    Bringing it down to earth is probably expensive, but using it in space would save the fuel needed to bring that material up.
  • A 10m object. Even if there were a non-destructive way to get the material earthside, there wouldn't be enough material to make it worth while. It's a mighty expensive technology demo, otherwise.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      the plan is to move up to 1 mile asteroids. those would have MUCH material. might crash metal markets on earth too, but having the real thing is better than the paper pyramid scams built on metals with over 10 times the money locked up.
  • by WoOS (28173) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @12:40PM (#37266646)

    How did
            Two Chinese scientists propose to nudge a ten-meter asteroid nearing earth in 2049 into an earth orbit
    transform into
            "The Chinese want to capture an asteroid into earth's orbit and mine it" ?

  • of Orbital Mechanics. Physics, too... when convenient.
    1. Let's start with the mass of this asteroid, so we can determine the VAST amount of energy it will take to "nudge it." Recall that the 365-foot Saturn V pushed a capsule the size of a VW Bug.
    2. Secondly, note the orbital change is a plane change, which takes orders of magnitude more Delta-V than an in-plane maneuver.
    3. Thirdly, what will they gain from this rock that will be worth the effort, energy, money, and risk to the planet?
      Sure, mining asteroids is a
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Makes great science fiction settings.

      and then Dr. Fu Barr was chomped by the alien, transmogrified into a hybrid human-alien and started to attack the miners ...

    • The Saturn V needed to push that VW-sized object out of a significant gravity well. In the proposed scenario, the gravity well would be acting in favor of rather than against the goal (albeit very attenuated by distance). Yes, changing the velocity of the mass is still significant, but you want to talk about orders of magnitude, taking something from sea level to escape is ridiculous to contrast with something already in orbit.

      And if you RTFA, you'll find that the object is only 10 meters, and would be d
    • Recall that the 365-foot Saturn V pushed a capsule the size of a VW Bug.

      Actually, the 365-foot Saturn V put more than 150 tons in LEO. And about 45 tons of that went on to the moon.

      Secondly, note the orbital change is a plane change, which takes orders of magnitude more Delta-V than an in-plane maneuver.

      No. More, depending on the exact orbit in question, but not "orders of magnitude more".

      Thirdly, what will they gain from this rock that will be worth the effort, energy, money, and risk to the planet?

      Let

    • We're talking about capturing an asteroid that already has interacted with earth and will once again come close to earth anyway. the slingshot effect of earth can add or take up to 60 km /sec, moon contribute 2km/sec more, together or earth alone more than enough delta-V to play with. The means of capture would be the same for deflecting any asteroid of one mile or more that is threat to earth. Gravity tractor with 2000 ton mass, darkening or lightening to change push from Sun, ion engine pushing over mo
  • You must provide thrust in accelerate the mass to the appropriate velocity to maintain steady orbit.

    Are they kidding?

    • by pclminion (145572)
      Depends how you mine it. If you are constantly throwing material down to Earth, then you get this problem, but if you just anchor on the surface of the asteroid and perform your mining operations there, the net change in momentum is zero as you mine, and you only need to deal with the problem when you're done and ready to start sending material down. Honestly, I'd just keep the material in orbit until needed.
  • even if they do get it into a stable orbit around us, what's to stop something else (another asteroid) that we'd usually not worry about (because it wasn't going to come too close) going ahead and hitting the orbiting asteroid, and possibly sending it our way (or just destabilizing it's orbit).

    I guess there's lots of things they could do...but all of them have risks...does the reward out-weigh the risk (and the effort)?
  • Not the Chinese (Score:2, Informative)

    by jdavidb (449077)

    The headline makes it sound like this is a plan of the Chinese government, or a desire of the Chinese people as a whole. Instead, according to the article, it's an idea from two researchers at a Chinese university. It is just an idea at this stage, not something anybody has expressed a desire to do.

    If it was "black people" or "the Jews" instead of "the Chinese," we would be offended by this headline. But since the Chinese government is unpopular in America, it's a good chance to take a subtle and unwarra

    • If it was "black people" or "the Jews" instead of "the Chinese," we would be offended by this headline. But since the Chinese government is unpopular in America, it's a good chance to take a subtle and unwarranted jab at "those crazy Chinese, who will probably kill us all."

      If it was "black people" or "the Jews", I'd think someone was joking.

      Since it's the Chinese, my first thought is that they're way farther from being able to do this than they think, but that WHEN they do this, it'll be pretty cool.

    • by dachshund (300733)

      If it was "black people" or "the Jews" instead of "the Chinese," we would be offended by this headline. But since the Chinese government is unpopular in America, it's a good chance to take a subtle and unwarranted jab at "those crazy Chinese, who will probably kill us all."

      Maybe you were thinking that. I was thinking "all those great Arthur C. Clarke stories I read as a kid are finally coming true. Go China!".

      I'm only disappointed that it's not really happening.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Your comparison of the Chinese government to black people or the Jews is offensive to black people and the Jews.

    • The Chinese people and its government are many things, but they don't hate America and they're not looking to kill us. This isn't the cold war, and they don't have an axe to grind like the Russians did. In fact, many Chinese admire American history and our culture to some degree. They just wont admit it in public as they're extremely prideful and fear losing face. They're actions speak otherwise however. Look at all the stuff they copy, the modern music they compose, and the cars they drive. They too want t

  • Now they can threaten to crash asteroids into the earth if we don't agree to cutting treasonous federal spending!
  • I was out to lunch with a group of people and the subject of space exploration came up. Having worked at NASA and LPI (albeit 30 years ago), I expressed my various opinions (e.g., the Shuttle was a mistake and we lost 30-40 years by NASA's hindering private enterprises from space launch systems). The subject of mining asteroids came up; I said that it could provide some long-term benefits, but I would be very, very leery about moving an asteroid into near-Earth orbit, for all the obvious reasons.

    That said,

    • by blair1q (305137)

      The Shuttle was a marvelous piece of engineering and private space hasn't had anything like that capability because there was no way any private corporation could shoulder the development and testing and operational losses. Not to mention the effects of two deadly accidents on their ability to continue with the program. Especially given the way capital was distributed in the 1970s, there was no way that anyone was approaching NASA's ability to put things into space. Only now, after decades of erosion of

  • This is Slashdot. We are technology and sci fi enthusiasts. This idea gives me a cerebral boner, it gets me excited, fills me with awe at human endeavour. And if you don't feel the same way, what the bleep are you doing posting on Slashdot?

    Also, I'm not a dumb chest thumping tribal nationalist, so if the Chinese should be able to do it, credit to them, I bow before their accomplishment, and sour grapes is really not the bleeping point.

    Finally, if all you can do is whine about fear and lack of trust in technical acumen and science and an unhealthy aversion to modest risk, with a brain informed more by Michael Bay movies than actual fucking science and tech, then you really are posting on the wrong fucking site, and frankly, sign off and fuck off and stop polluting these forums with your feeble mind.

  • In 1997 Jim Benson formed a company called SpaceDev, with the primary intent of doing exactly this. They funded their main R&D through microsatellite launches. Sadly, Benson died in the early 2000's and the company was bought out. I invested quite a bit and was hopeful for the future.

  • I remember, as an ardent newcomer to L5, talking about exactly this sort of thing with Eric Drexler in a park somewhere in the Bay Area, back in 1983. What the heck, good luck to the Chinese. Maybe they'll even do it. (although the delta-V required is truly staggering, even for the kind of intercept described)
  • 1. Read a Stephen Baxter novel and get an idea.
    2. Find exactly the right size asteroid and change it's orbit to collide with Earth at a point near Washington D.C.
    3. Use a cover story about mining the asteroid even though that makes no economic sense. The same minerals can be found on Earth.
    4. Accept the gratitude of the rest of the world.
    5. Claim the giant crater where the U.S. used to be for the People's Republic of China.
    6. ???
    7. Profit.

  • Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as consultants.
  • Regardless of the direction of the nudge, we must pursue the technology. As we learn more about NEO nudging, it will apply equally to either case: towards or away. One day, we may need to implant some automated solar sails and a nuclear pulse engine on a larger NEO to keep it from impacting our little "pale blue dot" on its next pass!
  • by Mt._Honkey (514673) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @01:22PM (#37267260)

    The plan of bringing it in so it is barely bound and letting it wander off some years later sounds much more dangerous than bringing it into a proper orbit.

    What will that asteroid do over the following centuries/millenia? We would have to monitor it forever and might need to nudge it again later. I'm also not sure if there are any truly stable orbits around the Earth, given the size of our moon driving it. Maybe there is some resonance with the moon's orbit that is safe. If so, that seems the best place to put it, and leave it there forever.

  • In other news I want to capture a Leprechaun so I get his pot of gold.

    I see this having about an equal chance of happening in my lifetime.

  • by Frightened_Turtle (592418) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @02:35PM (#37268240)

    With all the political calls saying we should go to the Moon or Mars, I've been an advocate that our next big manned mission should be to an asteroid for evaluating how to mine it. Sadly, the conservative parties in the US seem hellbent on dumbing down the American public and emptying their pockets and minds than they are at building up the country and making it productive again.

    Earth is running very short on critical metals and rare earths that we need to support our current civilization and future growth. More than ever, space exploration needs to show economic return to those communities supporting the endeavor. I've not heard any evidence of the moon containing any needed mineral deposits we need. Mars, we've just barely scratched the surface (pun intended) and we don't know what is to be found on that planet. Considering how expensive it is to send things there, much less people, we need to be able to show as much of an economic return as a scientific return.

    The Moon does lend itself well to a base to practice techniques needed elsewhere. Where better to work out the techniques needed to mine and smelt ore in an airless, low gravity environment than a place where help and rescue is just a few days away, instead of a few months? It also lends itself well for scientific uses, such as setting up a major astronomical observatory. Improved astronomical observation brings a longterm economic return by improving our understanding of how the physics of our universe works and how to possibly circumvent our current limitations, such as gravity or the speed of light. Also, it improves our chances of finding another world to populate before Earth becomes uninhabitable.

    While there is no solid proof aside from meteorites that have made it to Earth's surface, there is evidence that there are many asteroids that may be rich in metals needed by our current civilizations. My opinion is we should be turning our attention to finding these gold mines among the stars and exploiting them. That's certainly worth more than ruining the environment we currently need to survive!

    • by TheDugong (701481)

      Correct me if I am wrong, but we are not running out of anything (except maybe hydrogen and helium? And oil). What we are running out of is easily/cheaply minable stuff. Are asteroids any more easily/cheaply minable than landfill or than implementing decent recycing?

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