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Mars NASA Science

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

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 Jagjr ( 1734396 ) on Monday December 24, 2012 @10:37AM (#42381617)
    "... the Daily Mail reported." All i have to say
  • What could possibly go wrong?
  • Sounds like some fun, how can folks like myself get involved?
  • Misfit by RAH (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Monday December 24, 2012 @10:45AM (#42381657)

    "a space station for astronauts to refuel on their way to Mars"

    I hope they hire Andy Libby to do their calculations.

    Anyway having a "gas station in space' is not that good unless you just have it in Earth orbit. Having one halfway to mars is not going to work because you would have to slow down to dock with it and waste delta V

    • Did you even bother to read the summary?

      a, '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 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.

      • That's worse. That section is describing the capture mission. Ie, that the asteroid is between the Earth and the moon before the capture capsule reaches it. Which is utterly retarded.

        The whole thing is a complete misreading of the concept, no wonder GP is confused.

    • Re:Misfit by RAH (Score:4, Insightful)

      by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Monday December 24, 2012 @11:50AM (#42382071) Journal

      Not necessarily, going from Earth to Mars means you not only have to travel up through Earth's gravity well, but the sun's as well, so there may be no delta V between the fueling station and the vehicle to Mars at that point. The other point is it's much easier to get to Mars than it is to get there and back, in space travel energy budgets always trumps distance; Frequntly just getting off a planet's surface is half or more of the trip energy wise, and there is noway to get around spending the energy to get off the Marsian surface. Since there will be humans on board, time of flight is also a factor, since we don't want the raditation exposure during the trip to fry them into crispy critters.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      Missed this comment earlier. Sorry.

      This was also my first thought.

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      If you could find one in or near a Mars cycler [] orbit, this might make a lot of sense.

      Remember, astronauts in long duration deep space flights should get a fair amount of shielding, and a big rock should be able to provide the few meters of rock
      that would be best.

    • You could have chosen another quote. "Halfway" can mean many things. For example: "Get to low-Earth orbit, and you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system." - RAH
  • Well, NASA hasn't said a word about this and they usually blab on and on about projects that won't even start for decades. But The Australian and India Times both reported that the Daily Fail wrote an article about it, so that's confirmation from three sources, right?

    If Milhouse says it too, then it must be true.

  • It's not hard to get to Mars, the hard part is getting back.
    • Even that's not hard, just really, really expensive when the fuel costs upwards of $100/kg just to get it into orbit. On the other hand if you can produce it cheaply in orbit from materials that have never set foot on Earth, and send a refueling pod drifting on a multi-year low-energy trajectory to a Mars parking orbit so it'll be waiting for the primary mission, it'd be a LOT cheaper.

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

    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.

    • Well, one possible solution would be to send the asteroids to Earth, designate some uninhabited area as an impact zone, and drop the rocks there for traditional mining. We did something similar for nuclear tests for decades, after all (in fact the old nuclear test ranges might be an excellent choice, assuming the radioactivity's died down to safe levels in the meantime). I'd be willing to bet that now as then, the big flash-BANG would be quite a tourist attraction, with the bonus that the sightseers would

      • Key phrase to keep in mind when thinking about your idea: Extinction-Level Event []

        Dropping asteroids into Earth's gravity well intentionally is a incredibly bad idea.

      • Hate to spoil a touch of nuclear scaremongering, but the old nuclear test sites have been open to tourists for decades. [] []

    • by waveclaw ( 43274 )
      Lasers could do the trick to harvest material from NASA's space asteroid. And not just because science fiction video games overuse this particular trope.

      AVLIS (and the closely related MLIS) should work in a microgravity or free-fall scenario. []

      Once again, space technology can benefit from something created from the nuclear weapons research of those spunky monkeys from the dirtball orbiting a nondescript yellow dwarf out in the spiral arm

    • Well no, not for sure - which is kinda the point of trying to do it. As far as smelting/refining is concerned - we probably don't need to do that with metallic asteroids, as far as we can tell they contain chunks of basically pure metal, just cut/melt some off and work it directly. The Earth has had billions of years of chemical activity in an oxidizing environment to diffuse metals through it's crust to create "ore" out of the pure metals, that never happened on the asteroids.

      Working metals might be a bi

      • You do understand that the 'metals' we use in industrial processes are not pure elemental metal? They are virtually all complex alloys - so melting and recombining them will undoubtedly be necessary. There have been a number of Shuttle and ISS experiments about bits and pieces of metallurgy technology in zero G but we are light years away from being able to do anything but screw in a bolt and attach some wires.

        Before we can get all Kim Stanley Robinson we need to actually build something really complicate

        • Most basic iron is pretty pure - i.e. it's full of contaminants but nothing intentional or severe enough to cause a dramatic shift in properties, and it's more than sufficient for structural components that will never see more than a fraction of a G acceleration. Most of the fancy alloys exist to get additional properties - more flexibility, greater hardness, more corrosion resistance, higher strength, etc. That's nice and all, but as you point out it requires a lot of infrastructure to create. On the oth

    • It's quite simple really.

      You slice off a chunk the size of a suv, attach a metal cylinder to the back of it and drop it into the atmosphere. The rock vaporizes from the reentry heat and the trailing cylinder captures and distills the vapors. The cylinder acts like a refinery column and segregates the various metals according to their heat of vaporization.

      The main risk is pirates snagging your cylinder after the refined metals have cooled but other than that it's easy peasy.

    • You don't actually need to smelt any ore, about half of the metal asteroids are essentially pure iron and nickel. It's not like earth where you have to worry about complex plate tectonics and chemical reactions affecting what's available, or about conducting geographic surveys and moving massive amounts of earth to access it. Just scope out the asteroid display case for an asteroid that has what you want and begin harvesting it.

  • action == reaction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Monday December 24, 2012 @11:14AM (#42381847) Homepage Journal

    and when they launch to another planet from the asteroid, it will be kicked out of its "neutral" orbit and enter a declining apogee which eventually causes it to crash into Earth.

    boy, I hope that colonization thing works OK

    • At least with an enemy you know where you stand, but a "neutral"?

    • Why would they launch from the asteroid? Build ship next to space station/asteroid/etc, give it a nudge so it drifts away when done, then fire rockets once it's at a safe distance. A 50-foot asteroid hardly has any gravity well you need to escape - even on a 50-mile one you could probably reach escape velocity with a particularly violent sneeze.

      The action-reaction balance is satisfied by the rocket exhaust + ship system, the only way the asteroid gets involved is if the rocket exhaust is washes across it,

  • the irony of being attacked/impacted by something we decided to put in a trojan point will be fatal.
  • "From here space explorers would have a stationary base from which to launch trips deeper into space. "

    Call it a "handy rock to drop on miscreants if they don't behave" and you'll get the double budget before you can blink.

    • Nah, the last place you want to drop miscreants is on a rock from which they can drop rocks hundreds of miles onto your head.

  • They are suggesting using a large 'bag' of some type to capture the asteroid. How feasible is that, considering we're talking about a spinning asteroid with lots of sharp edges that would cut a "bag"? We'd need to stop its spin first, no?
  • Wouldn't something like this use twice the fuel needed to get to Mars? They don't accelerate the whole way, and having to stop in the middle and accelerate again, only to have to decelerate again when you reach Mars seems pointless and wasteful. I'll admit I'm not a rocket scientist or physicist, but I doubt there's a way to carry enough fuel to do a full burn all the way to Mars, even with a fuelling point half way there. At least not with fuel loaded before take off. If you're going to load up fuel af

    • That's because:
      0. It's half way to our moon, not to Mars.
      1. It's sort of like golf. It takes much less precision, force, and skill to make a closer target first than to get a hole in one.

      Think of it like this: You spend a bunch of fuel getting out of Earth's gravity well, but taper off and just gently break free, glide up to the refueling station, dock, take on the rest of the fuel you'll need, and go from there, avoiding having to carry that fuel out of the strong part of Earth's gravity well. I agre

  • The craft doing the work should be christened "Marcus Garvey".
  • by CFTM ( 513264 ) on Monday December 24, 2012 @01:12PM (#42382615)

    You see, in another four years, a new president will take over. This president will decide that they want to leave a legacy through NASA, as all the proceeding presidents since Kennedy have (all wanting to share in some of that immortality), and blow up Obama's plan for this new presidents plan. Just like Obama did to Bush (remember we were going back to the moon a mere 5 years ago!) and as I'm sure Bush did to Clinton and Clinton to Bush and Bush to Reagan and Reagan to Carter and well you get the idea.

    It's like the pharaohs of ancient Egypt; when the last one dies you either deface his monuments and put your name up there or you outright destroy them.

    No progress to be made here!

  • 300 kg (Score:4, Funny)

    by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Monday December 24, 2012 @01:32PM (#42382765)
    Wow, a whole 300 kg of propellant. I am impressed..
  • Nice. Just add fuel energy ... and you've got fuel! Brought to you by the emission-free hydrogen car. We'll just squeeze an extra column into the periodic table between manganese and iron. Natrium: 25.5 protons. Chemical properties: Does not pollute. Application: Leak-proof hydrogen piping. Abundance: Just rub your fingers.

    It's a little closer to sanity to describe hydrolysis as fueling water into a self-actualizing propellant.

    Of course, lobbing iron ingots out of a rail gun achieves the same end, bu

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      I should have added:

      Chemical symbol: N/A.

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      We'll just squeeze an extra column into the periodic table between manganese and iron. Natrium: 25.5 protons.

      Natrium, chemical symbol Na. Atomic number: 11. Also known as: sodium.

      More efficient to build the rail gun into the giant rock and lob the spacecraft with a giant rail gun.

      Not really. For one, you'd be forced to deliver momentum to the rocket only during the brief period where the rocket is actually in the rail gun. Giving it a substantial amount of momentum means subjecting it to very high acceleration, which tends to be bad for its contents and structure. For another, you're forced to deliver an equal amount of momentum to the rock (opposite direction), which then has to be undone to keep the thing statio

  • Maybe they can use this, []
  • More fantasy from the guys (never girls) of NASA. These guys don't seem to realize that that they are a cold-war relic, like NATO, and their reason for existence ended with the television shots of astronauts playing golf on the moon. Which was a long time ago. Now space exploits like 'lassoing asteriods' is the provence of Hollywood.
    These NASA boys are in a celestial cluster-fuck. They believe that the future in space is completely unlimited, if only the feds would simply give them enough

The finest eloquence is that which gets things done.