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Mars NASA Science

NASA Plans To "Lasso" Asteroid and Turn It Into Space Station 200

Posted by samzenpus
from the rock-roping dept.
SternisheFan writes "NASA scientists are planning to capture a 500 ton asteroid, relocate it and turn it into a space station for astronauts to refuel on their way to Mars. From the article: 'The 1.6bn-pound plan will be considered by the White House's Office of Science and technology in the coming weeks, as it prepares to set its space exploration agenda for the next decade, the Daily Mail reported. According to a report prepared by NASA and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists, an, 'asteroid capture capsule' would be attached to an old Atlas V rocket and directed towards the asteroid between the earth and the moon. Once close, the asteroid capsule would release a 50ft diameter bag that would wrap around the spinning rock using drawstrings. The craft would then turn on its thrusters, using an estimated 300kg of propellant, to stop the asteroid in its tracks and tow it into a gravitationally neutral spot. From here space explorers would have a stationary base from which to launch trips deeper into space. Though NASA declined to comment on the project, it is believed that technology would make it possible within 10-12 years. The technology would also open up the possibility of mining other asteroids for their metals and minerals. Some are full of iron which could be used in the making of new space stations, others are made up of water which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel. It is hoped that the project will increase our understanding of asteroids, and even shed new light on the origin of life on Earth.'"
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NASA Plans To "Lasso" Asteroid and Turn It Into Space Station

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  • by NoNeeeed (157503) <slash AT paulleader DOT co DOT uk> on Monday December 24, 2012 @11:05AM (#42381785) Homepage

    People keep touting the idea of mining metals from asteroids and using it to build spacecraft outside of the earth's gravity well, but do we actually know how to do that?

    The mining side of things seems relatively straight-forward (not easy, but you wouldn't need anything radically new), but smelting and refining significant amounts of ore in low gravity could be rather difficult. As far as I understand, a traditional iron smelting plant uses gravity to help with the purification, allowing the slag to float to the surface, before tapping the good quality iron from the bottom of the blast furnace.

    It seems like purifying and working ore in space would require entirely new ways of working with the raw materials. Perhaps using some kind of high temperature centrifuge to spin and separate the material.

    I'm not saying it's not possible, but it doesn't seem quite as easy as some of the more excitable science-fictiony plans for space exploration treat it. Many of these plans feature major problems to solve that get glossed over as minor technicalities.

  • Re:illogical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Immerman (2627577) on Monday December 24, 2012 @12:28PM (#42382297)

    That's what I got too, but if that's the case it seems like a bad idea to me. The L1 (and L2) points are unstable, like trying to balance on the edge of a knife - the Moon and Earth are both "down", and you've got a 50/50 chance that when it destabilizes it'll be on a collision course with Earth. Now I suppose you could put it in one of those complicated 3D orbits around the L1 point like they do with the solar observer at the Earth-Sun L1, but that still requires constant minor momentum adjustments which could add up fast for a 50 ton mass. Especially with the sun's gravity constantly upsetting the pseudo-equilibrium.

    I would think the Earth-Moon L3 or L4 "points" would be far more attractive since they are gravitationally stable so you don't have to be constantly fine-tuning your momentum. Granted though, they are at a considerably higher specific orbital energy than the L1 point, high enough even that it's easier to escape the Earth's pull entirely than to match speed with them. And perhaps NASA is looking ahead and thinking having a space station at the L1 point would be an asset towards eventually building a lunar space elevator, which would be an enormous asset towards colonizing/mining/etc the moon and quite feasible with current materials, unlike an Earth elevator. There might also be some strategic thinking involved - the L1 point is uniquely valuable, and whatever nation controls it will be well positioned for many future endeavors.

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