Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space Moon NASA

NASA's Garver Proposes Carving Piece Off Big Asteroid For Near-Earth Mining 110

Posted by timothy
from the worth-it-at-any-price dept.
MarkWhittington writes "According to a July 26, 2013 story in Space News, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver mused about what appeared to be a change to the space agency's asteroid snatching mission at the NewSpace 2013 conference. Apparently the idea is to send a robot to a larger asteroid than originally planned, carve out a chunk of it, and then bring it to lunar orbit for an crew of astronauts to visit in an Orion space ship. Garver's proposed change would widen the number of target asteroids and would test technologies important for asteroid mining. But it would also increase the complexity and certainly the cost of the asteroid mission. There are a lot of unanswered questions, such as what kind of mechanism would be involved in taking a piece of an asteroid and moving it? At the same conference Garver had hinted at a willingness to consider mounting a program of "sustainable" lunar exploration, as some in Congress have demanded, concurrent with the asteroid mission."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA's Garver Proposes Carving Piece Off Big Asteroid For Near-Earth Mining

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The first step is probably going to be hunting down mini moons [discovery.com] where all the delta-v is provided by gravity. Once the fundamental technologies are in place we can go hunting for bigger fish, but first we have to start with the minnows.

  • Moving asteroid chunks into Earth orbit.

    • by khallow (566160) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @03:17PM (#44407707)

      What could possibly go wrong moving asteroid chunks into Earth orbit.

      Not much could go wrong aside from the mission just not working. The Earth's atmosphere will stop an errant asteroid chunk of this size. If those chunks get far bigger, then they'll have to worry to some degree about preventing asteroid impacts with Earth.

      • by jittles (1613415)

        What could possibly go wrong moving asteroid chunks into Earth orbit.

        Not much could go wrong aside from the mission just not working. The Earth's atmosphere will stop an errant asteroid chunk of this size. If those chunks get far bigger, then they'll have to worry to some degree about preventing asteroid impacts with Earth.

        What about all the satellites that could potentially be destroyed by a large asteroid chunk moving through orbit? I mean, if they bring this in slowly enough it could be a large chunk of rock floating through various different orbits as it slowly descends toward either.

        • A single large chunk is no different than any other spacecraft in a transfer orbit. I think we've only had one or two unintended collisions between spacecraft in 60 years. It's rubble smeared out across orbits that you've got to worry about.

          More than that, most asteroid plans intend to keep the rock in a high orbit, such as lunar orbit or a lagrange point, in orbit to provide a testing ground for manned space-flight beyond low orbit. Very little company up there..

          if they bring this in slowly enough

          Errr, no. Look, if you're curious about spac

          • by jittles (1613415)

            A single large chunk is no different than any other spacecraft in a transfer orbit. I think we've only had one or two unintended collisions between spacecraft in 60 years. It's rubble smeared out across orbits that you've got to worry about.

            More than that, most asteroid plans intend to keep the rock in a high orbit, such as lunar orbit or a lagrange point, in orbit to provide a testing ground for manned space-flight beyond low orbit. Very little company up there..

            if they bring this in slowly enough

            Errr, no. Look, if you're curious about space, it's worth your time learning some basic orbital mechanics. The maths is just simple algebra (the harder stuff is generally already worked out by Sir Isaac and his successors, tidied up into neat formula) and it will give your a better sense of scale and how things work out there.

            I understand orbital mechanics. The concern is not about if they successfully bring it into a safe orbit. The concern is if they try to bring it in a safe orbit and something bad happens and it comes into the atmosphere over time due to gravity. Obviously if it comes flying in at thousands of miles an hour its less likely to cause huge problems but if they don't get it into a stable orbit and it comes down, its much more likely to cause a problem.

            • I understand orbital mechanics.

              The rest of your reply suggests otherwise. For example:

              and it comes into the atmosphere over time due to gravity.

              • by jittles (1613415)

                I understand orbital mechanics.

                The rest of your reply suggests otherwise. For example:

                and it comes into the atmosphere over time due to gravity.

                I understand orbital mechanics.

                The rest of your reply suggests otherwise. For example:

                and it comes into the atmosphere over time due to gravity.

                So you are saying that objects in space cannot enter into a degrading orbit and eventually fall into the earths atmosphere?

                • No, I don't think her is denying the existence of orbit degradation. The problematic part is you saying that it happens "due to gravity". gravity keeps it in orbit, lack of vacuum is what brings it down. Rahul
            • by khallow (566160)

              The concern is if they try to bring it in a safe orbit and something bad happens and it comes into the atmosphere over time due to gravity.

              The answer is that if the asteroid enters the Earth's atmosphere, it's going to do so at least at a speed of 8.5 km/s. If it's coming in from deep space, it may be going a lot faster than that. The energy is going to be dissipated in large part by break up and vaporization of the asteroid. There might be some damage to property and people on the ground from the few pieces that survive reentry, but it's going to be like "rock falls through roof/totals car" rather than "city vaporized by huge fire ball".

    • There are a number of NEO asteroids of all sizes whose orbits could be modified from a solar to an Earth orbit (say, outside the lunar orbital distance with an Earth orbit of 30+ days - still close enough for useful research, and eventual exploitation) with a change in velocity of under 100 km/hour.

    • Asteroids hitting earth aren't that big of a deal. Asteroids hitting earth with a significant velocity relative to us is the problem. If we were moving one into orbit, it's relative velocity would be so low it would stand little change of doing any damage should it accidentally hit the planet.

    • Well, your comprehension skills seem to have gone wrong, since they're talking about putting it in lunar orbit. Smash an asteroid into the moon on accident? Oh well, there's another crater to go with the several thousand that are already there. Miss, and send a small asteroid chunk off into space? Well, that's where it came from anyway.

      They'd have to be amazingly stupid to try to do a lunar orbit injection where any failure could mathematically become a trans-earth trajectory.

      • They'd have to be amazingly stupid to try to do a lunar orbit injection where any failure could mathematically become a trans-earth trajectory.

        Not necessarily, the amount of mass we're capable of moving would be less than, say, that recent Russian meteor (about 50-70 tonnes) which was barely able to knock over a couple of walls and break windows. Even then, they'd have to be amazingly unlucky to both lose control, and have it end up on a reentry trajectory, and reenter near a city.

        The only actual risk for an asteroid chunk that fails during a trajectory change exactly as it passes through trans-Earth-orbit, is if it is loosely bound rubble which h

  • Given that, to be a threat to Earth, such asteroids would have an orbit that almost intersects Earth's at Earth's position at the near-intersection, and risks being perturbed onto a collision course, I hope they're really careful when "carving off a chunk".

    It would be ironic if, in the process of trying to avoid a potential "rifle shot" of the whole asteroid, they perturbed the rest in exactly that way, or broke it up into several large "shotgun pellets" and ended up hitting the Earth with one or more of th

    • by tloh (451585)

      I suddenly have this XKCDesque notion this is actually the start of a RubeGoldbergian scheme to write some esoteric Perl script.

      • So there is a collection of asteroids, whose orbits interact in such a way that they implement a stored-program computer that computes the lifespan of the universe? It would be interesting to see how one might number orbits so that they constitute values in a numeric system.
        Whooo, this is pretty far out there! Thanks for thinking of it and inspiring some very weird ideas in my head! :D Somehow Perl is the perfect tool for this - it's already far out there.

  • by Virtucon (127420) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @03:06PM (#44407655)

    When do we get enough technology out of this to play pool with planets?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, it absolutely does not.

      There, that's my pedantry for the day. Posting anonymous because pedantry and I don't want to blow away moderation on this story quite yet.

  • An image is worth a thousand word [wordpress.com]. It's worth more if you've seen the movie to understand my comment, however.

  • What the heck is a 'teroid' and did you really have to use profanity to describe how big it is?!
  • Yes, mining asteroids sounds like a nice plan. But much like flying cars, I do not see it happening any time soon. But fuck, it's great to talk about, isn't it?

    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @04:19PM (#44408059)

      Yes, mining asteroids sounds like a nice plan. But much like flying cars, I do not see it happening any time soon. But fuck, it's great to talk about, isn't it?

      NASA is trying to rationalize its existence. Most of the public isn't interested in progress in science, but the promise of money makes us drool.

      Of course, any resulting money would go to whoever gets to market the metals, and the public would get nothing but the bill for bootstrapping it.

      If we want the Federal government to boost the economy, we should think more top-down, and ask "where could we invest this amount of money to produce the most bang for the buck?". I'd be more in favor of policies that promote manufacturing, since our economy is rapidly converging toward nothing but flipping hamburgers and gambling on the stock market.

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        NASA is trying to rationalize its existence. Most of the public isn't interested in progress in science, but the promise of money makes us drool.

        I'm very interested in progress in science. That's why I'm not sure I support NASA. After decades of wasting money on the shuttle program and joy rides for military pilots, they don't seem to be a good steward of science.

        NASA should send out tons of probes and satellites. They shouldn't be in the business of manned space flight or asteroid mining; leave those to co

      • by cusco (717999)
        A centrally planned economy? I'm surprised the libertardians didn't climb all over you.

        Much of what NASA does is basic research, and really that's their most important job since the corporations decided to focus on quarterly stock values rather than long-term planning. The thing about basic research is that you never really know where it will lead, Bell Labs discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, along with better radar sets and improving the microwave oven, for example. Basic research
        • A centrally planned economy? I'm surprised the libertardians didn't climb all over you.

          Notice that I said "If we want". I know there is strong disagreement about such things on Slashdot, and I didn't want that issue to distract from the points I was trying to make.

    • by CanadianMacFan (1900244) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @04:37PM (#44408147)

      I'm glad that flying cars are taking time to get here. Have you seen the idiots attempting to drive in two dimensions? Now picture them trying to do so in three. Wait until cars can completely drive themselves before we start getting them going up in the air.

    • The delay of flying cars is a good thing. When someone loses control of their rolling car, it goes into a ditch, or maybe someone's lawn. If you lose control of a flying car, it goes into some kid's bedroom on the 2nd floor.

  • This seems to be adding a lot of complexity to a proof-of-concept that should start as simply as possible. Just the tech involved in sending a robot and carving up a chunk seems to be putting a lot more variables into the first mining-asteroids effort than is necessary. I don't see the justification for this, unless it's just because someone wants the entire effort to fail (by design), and put an end to the idea entirely.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @04:00PM (#44407963)
    What could possibly be valuable enough (in the long term) to send people from the Earth to the Moon's orbit to dig out?

    Sure, when someone gets self-sustaining colonies, they will have a need for raw materials but that seems to be decades or hundreds of years away. By then the technology to move people and thngs around in space will have developed further (evidenced by the self-sustaining colonies they will have enabled), so using our tech, today, to do this is both inefficient and far too early.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      The ability to collect and hurl large rocks at America's enemies.

      Seriously, unless it is an international effort involving the Chinese, Europe, Russia and India then capturing asteroids could easily start a new arms race.

    • by cusco (717999)
      Solar power satellites. Sustainable colonies. Living beyond LEO. The frontier.
  • Asimov in one of his novels spoke of sending crews out there , attaching rocket packs and sending chunks of ice to Mars ..
    he may not be all that far from what's to come. But about this , i got a few m hmm , questions ..Imagine a defect somehow in the procedure or
    a false manoeuver and it's consequences for. Nice to get an asteroid close .. but a simple accident may cause a great deal of damage if said asteroid was to enter earth's atmosphere .. Claims of infaillible plans have a tendency to send chills up

    • by mrbester (200927)

      Asimov in one of his novels spoke of sending crews out there, attaching rocket packs and sending chunks of ice to Mars ..

      Yeah, but he didn't know about the reactor.

  • I'm only giving better than even odds that we get NASA astronauts back into low Earth orbit again in a NASA spacecraft... forget about anything more dramatic than that. The culture, finances and governance of the United States would need to change significantly for anything more grand than that. A nation that, in its self-inflicted race to champion the lowest common denominator in any endeavour, consumes itself with re-defining its ability to succeed with phases like 'the new normal' is not the kind of nat

    • I thought that NASA has already given up on sending people to low Earth orbit as private companies are out to do that (and currently has Russia available to do so). What I don't understand is why NASA wants to reinvent the wheel for missions further out into space. Why does the NASA mission have to start from the ground with a new launcher for astronauts?

      I would suggest using the ISS as a staging point to missions further out into the solar system. Create a heavy launch rocket for cargo (or use one that

      • by mbone (558574)

        Problems with that are

        - The ISS is in an orbit to suit the (latitude of the) Russians. We would waste energy sending a deep space mission (equipment or crew) to the ISS (unless we were also using Russian lift capacity or equipment, for which there are no plans at present).

        - The ISS is no place to be storing large amounts of rocket fuel. You would want to keep that well away from a crewed facility.

        - It is energetically much more efficient to burn off your delta V in the atmosphere when you return than to car

        • The ISS is no place to be storing large amounts of rocket fuel. You would want to keep that well away from a crewed facility

          Why? Assuming they'd be using a bipropellant fuel combo like hydrogen / oxygen, it would make sense for them to store the fuel and oxidizer in separate tanks. What would be the danger? If one of the tanks were to rupture, all that would happen is the fuel would leak into space. It's only a danger if the two gases mix, and if you kept the two tanks far enough away from each other, I don't see that happening.

          • by mbone (558574)

            Well, you would have to pump it into the rocket at some point.

            Here, however, is another way to think of it. If you are going to do orbital fuel storage in LEO, you will have to send up the tanks, pumps, etc. - they are not at station now. So, then, you have to ask, where, exactly, should they be sent, and (for us) the answer won't be the ISS (for the reasons I gave).

            Note that if the Russians ever started thinking again about sending people into deep space, they would come to different conclusions, and could

      • NASA, in building a spacecraft that could go beyond low earth orbit, would inevitably have test runs of those systems to low earth orbit. Especially given the risk tolerance at NASA today, with requirements for backup spacecraft and all (remember the second shuttle waiting on the launch pad just in case at the end of that program?) So while their stated goals are beyond low earth orbit... I don't believe they'll do better again, if they manage to pull even a low earth orbit test flight off.

        Space travel ta

      • What I don't understand is why NASA wants to reinvent the wheel for missions further out into space. Why does the NASA mission have to start from the ground with a new launcher for astronauts?

        Because [youtube.com].

  • I got really excited for a moment after reading the article, before I realized he's talking about this [wikipedia.org] Orion, and not this [wikipedia.org] one.

    • Runeghost want big boom?

    • by cusco (717999)
      I have the nasty suspicion that the choice of names was deliberate, chosen to 1) make the public/press forget the original Orion project, 2) shove the original Orion so low in the rankings of search engines that no one finds it. The political wonks in the Bush White House chose the name, not NASA, and they did very little by accident.
  • It makes sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbone (558574) on Sunday July 28, 2013 @05:16PM (#44408289)

    The trouble with sending a mission (manned or unmanned) to a very small (5 meter class) asteroid in the near future is that we don't know their orbits well enough. At all. Out of 374 very small near Earth asteroids known, exactly 2 have decently determined orbits. The chances of finding a candidate 5 meter asteroid in time to send a mission to it, and having a good enough determination of its orbit to have a mission get to it, is basically nill without a dedicated space telescope such as the B612 Foundations Sentinel [b612foundation.org] mission. So, unless we are willing to wait for an extra 5+ years to build and fly an asteroid finder, that means we have to carve off a piece of a bigger asteroid (more are known, and they tend to have better orbit determinations). As it happens, that is also what the asteroid mining people want NASA to demonstrate, as that fits their view of how asteroid mining will be done, and it will make the asteroid geologists happier as well, so this seems like a win-win all around.

    • As it happens, that is also what the asteroid mining people want NASA to demonstrate, as that fits their view of how asteroid mining will be done

      Which raises the question of why taxpayer money is being poured into R&D that should be handled by the private sector itself. This is a move past NASA's mission of doing basic science and exploration toward a fancy make-work program.

      • by mbone (558574)

        There is a long history here - from (for some major examples) the early Canals, to the Trans-Continental Railroad and the Geological Surveys of the West, followed by Air Mail and then the first communications satellites - of the Government (actually, of many governments) putting money either into R&D for or direct support of early-stage commercial ventures, in order to get them on their feet. It wouldn't be the first time NASA has done this by a long, long shot. In fact, US support of Aeronautics (the f

      • by cusco (717999)
        You forget, US corporations don't do R&D any more, the cost reduces executive bonuses. If the ROI is more than a year away then it's not worth bothering with since it won't improve the stock value before the executives move on to their next position the their game of 'musical chairs'.
  • Sounds like a stealthy way of killing off the project, by piling on requirements until it's obviously too expensive or risky.

  • Moon seems does not have much.
    Why we are so sure asteroids do?
    I read somewhere all "heavy metal" stuff is mostly in Mercury/Venus/Earth zone, the further away, the lighter the "metals".
    Are we so desperate for chondrite and iron?

    • Why we are so sure asteroids do?

      You're right. We should probably first send out, oh I don't know, say a robot mission to bring a small asteroid (or a sample from a larger one) back close enough for us to be able to run lots of checks. Hell we could even combine it with the manned program in order to gain some relatively safe but challenging experience doing work beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in 40 years; two birds with one stone, so to speak.

  • The key comment is for the Orion spacecraft to visit the chunk. The pork-mongers in Houston are building the SLS which has been called the "rocket to nowhere" with no mission in mind. Here is a perfect, though far-fetched, justification of this pork. Pork is not so bad except for the fact they it steals money for the real science being done at JPL with this unmanned probes. NASA should split so that Houston will quit stealing money from JPL.

A bug in the code is worth two in the documentation.

Working...