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

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the rock-roping dept.

Mars 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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"the Daily Mail reported" (5, Insightful)

Jagjr (1734396) | about 2 years ago | (#42381617)

"... the Daily Mail reported." All i have to say

Re: "the Daily Mail reported" (4, Funny)

robthebloke (1308483) | about 2 years ago | (#42381673)

Did it say which ethnic minority the asteroid belongs to? Or when its daughter will be turning 16? I might have to see what fred basset has to say about all this...

Re: "the Daily Mail reported" (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381681)

"... the Daily Mail reported." All i have to say

Yeah- on the one hand, I'm pleased that Slashdot isn't directly linking to such crap. OTOH, it somewhat "launders" the fact that the story has been probably been filtered through the perspective of a Daily Mail report before we got it.

Anyway, it's of concern to Daily Mail readers- if any aliens on the asteroid reach Middle England, that's an immigration issue. Plus, if NASA accidentally divert it and it smashes into Tunbridge Wells, it could affect house prices there too!

Re: "the Daily Mail reported" (2)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 2 years ago | (#42381767)

They must have a mad libs book for crazy stories...

*American agency* scientists are planning to *verb* a *singular noun* and use it as a *singular noun* for *insert job* on their way to *place*.+

Re: "the Daily Mail reported" (1)

KenP40 (2759733) | about 2 years ago | (#42382041)

Full serve side will get the windows. 1.6B just doesn't go as far as it used to when NASA was run by engineers instead of PR flacks.

Editors (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381621)

Nice editing, found two mistakes on a quick read.

Hmm... (2)

darkob (634931) | about 2 years ago | (#42381623)

What could possibly go wrong?

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381843)

Your posting about this without offering any amount of value in the conversation? That sounds pretty wrong to me.

Re:Hmm... (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 2 years ago | (#42381849)

Mass hysteria no matter how much NASA explain how failsafe it will be. You know how well they did dispelling the recent mayan apocalypse. The human factor is always the weakest link.

Re:Hmm... (3, Insightful)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 2 years ago | (#42382155)

What do you mean? The Mayan apocalypse didn't happen. Looks like NASA did a perfect job in dispelling it.

Re:Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382057)

That's no moon... it's a space station!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 2 years ago | (#42381629)

Sounds like some fun, how can folks like myself get involved?

Answer: (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381799)

Actually do something, so -- oh, I don't know -- you can actually work for NASA, the military, or a contractor in a space-related field, instead of making smartass remarks on slashdot that aren't remotely funny.

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382005)

I wonder if the 'gravitationally neutral' selected position is provably safe from glancing impact from other bodies that might cause either of them to change course to hit Earth?

Re:What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (1)

isorox (205688) | about 2 years ago | (#42382201)

I wonder if the 'gravitationally neutral' selected position is provably safe from glancing impact from other bodies that might cause either of them to change course to hit Earth?

On the other hand moving the asteroid may avoid that event

But of course (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381639)

Just add a 3D printer in there, maybe mention the species, and you're going to get rabid support among the mentally weak.

Re:But of course (2)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 2 years ago | (#42381765)

1. Use a Raspberry Pi convert the DXF file into g-code
2. Send the g-code to an Arduino to control the motors of your 3D printer
3. Use the spare cycles of the Raspberry Pi to generate bitcoins.
4. Marketing profits!

Misfit by RAH (4, Insightful)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#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

Re:Misfit by RAH (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381821)

If a spacecraft could reach Mars without refueling and just decided to stop at some asteroid along the way then yes, fuel would be wasted.

If the asteroid is intended for use as a refueling location then I'd make the assumption that A) spacecraft planning to dock with it would not have sufficient fuel to reach Mars without refueling, and therefore B) slowing down to rendezvous with the asteroid would not be wasting fuel as the asteroid was a necessary stop.

Getting the fuel to the asteroid is another matter but I'm guessing that it'd be done by an automated spacecraft without astronauts/life support/mission supplies taking away from the mass available for fuel. The craft carrying the astronauts/life support/mission supplies could be lighter as it only had to carry enough fuel to reach the asteroid to refuel before proceeding to Mars.

I suppose the question is whether taking the trip in two stages is more efficient than simply making one great big spacecraft that can reach Mars directly.

Re:Misfit by RAH (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381887)

You're still not getting it. A fuel drop positioned such that one has to burn half one's fuel load to access it is a fucking useless fuel drop.

Re:Misfit by RAH (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381973)

Slow down? That's what the asteroid is for - *WHAM*. They still need to work out some other details, though.

Re:Misfit by RAH (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382047)

Slow down? That's what the asteroid is for - *WHAM*. They still need to work out some other details, though.

They're pondering the practicalities of using a marshmallic asteroid, you can just plow right into those. If you're not careful you can come to a sticky end though.

Re:Misfit by RAH (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 2 years ago | (#42382011)

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.

Re:Misfit by RAH (3, Insightful)

budgenator (254554) | about 2 years ago | (#42382071)

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.

Re:Misfit by RAH (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382149)

The article says they want to put it into orbit around the moon, not halfway to Mars.
I have a feeling they've done the basic math to determine if it will work.

illogical (-1, Flamebait)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#42381659)

"water which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel"
The energy to split apart hydrogen from oxygen in water always exceeds or equals the energy received by burning the hydrogen. Welcome to physics.
Also, they're going to tow out a bunch of fuel and supplies, let's say halfway to Mars. Then they're going to launch a 2nd spacecraft and stop there to go get it. I have an idea. How about they put all the supplies on the first spacecraft instead and don't make a pitstop then just deal with the extra weight, which sounds easier than lassoing an asteroid.
Also, there is no gravitationally neutral spot, as every planet in the solar system is constantly moving.

logical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381685)

We don't really have the capability to load everything needed for a round-trip.

Re:logical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381759)

I am unsure where it may be "gravitationally neutral," but it could be position similar to Trojan asteroids at ~30 degrees fore and aft of Jupiter's path?

Re:logical (2)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | about 2 years ago | (#42382009)

Yes, the Trojans are at two of the Sun-Jupiter Lagrange points, where the gravity from each of those bodies is balanced, more or less allowing small objects to remain there.

Similar points exist between the Earth and the Sun and between the Earth and the Moon. Three points lie along the axis of the two bodies, and two lie in the orbit of the smaller body, 60 degrees ahead or behind.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381721)

Same problem they are trying to solve as midair refueling. There is only so much payload one can carry to break orbit from Earth which is the worse part of the trip.
More extra fuel means more weight and larger booster stage. At a certain point, the numbers works out that 2 launches could carry more fuel.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381741)

But it would take 3-4 launches. One to lasso the roid, one to put the fuel on it, optional "topping off" planetary station, and finally the mission launch itself.

Re:illogical (0)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about 2 years ago | (#42381873)

One to lasso the roid...

Please don't try to invent slang on the spot; the potential for embarrassing yourself is quite high.

Case in point: I have never before heard anyone use "roid" as slang for anything other than something you use Tux Medicated Pads to relieve and probably do not want to get rope-burnt by attempting to lasso it [wikipedia.org] .

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381939)

Most of those who have played eve-online for a while refer to asteroids (interesting things that get mined) as 'roids.
The original player by deduction must be an (ex?) eve-online player, while you obviously are not.

Re:illogical (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | about 2 years ago | (#42382145)

Case in point: I have never before heard anyone use "roid" as slang for anything other than...

"roid" is also used a shorthand for steroids. As in 'roid rage'.
But yes...shorthand for asteroid? That's just wrong.

Re:illogical (3, Funny)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 2 years ago | (#42382157)

These aren't the roids you're looking for.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382191)

It's not a rope actually.. it's known as rubber band ligation [wikipedia.org]

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382151)

Yes, 3-4 manageable launches with existing launchers, as opposed to one with an impractically mahoosive rocket we don't have and aren't designing. Plus: free orbital refinery, assembly facility, space station and materials left over once the mission leaves.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382223)

Ideally it would take more than that. One to lasso the asteroid, then a series of heavy lift vehicles to transport fuel, each of which will hopefully be able to supply several lighter missions.

Re:illogical (4, Insightful)

Coward Anonymous (110649) | about 2 years ago | (#42381739)

The idea is to use energy when you are close to the sun, where photovoltaics are practical. The stored energy is then used when you are distant from the sun, where photovoltaics are not practical.

Look up Lagrange points for a "neutral spot".

Hand in your nerd card at the exit.

Re:illogical (0)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#42382059)

Wow, I had no idea that there was a magic point between the sun and Jupiter where objects are immune to all other gravity. Give it up. It's not neutral and it will move.

Re:illogical (1)

Coward Anonymous (110649) | about 2 years ago | (#42381757)

I also forgot to mention that splitting water from up there means you don't have to ferry it up. An even bigger benefit.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381771)

I figured with solar panels, they can generate electricity to break down the water.

Re:illogical (1)

pr0t0 (216378) | about 2 years ago | (#42381779)

I believe the article is talking about a Lagrange Point. I don't know if calling it 'gravitationally neutral' is the most accurate way of describing it, but I suppose it is one way that the general public might understand and reasonably acceptable. The article talks about capturing the asteroid between the Earth and the Moon and stopping it, and there does exist a Lagrangian point (L1) in the Earth-Moon system between the two bodies.

Re:illogical (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381943)

L1 might be between the two bodies but it's gravitationally unstable. The only Lagrange points suitable for stationing a refueling base are L4 and L5, since those points wouldn't require continual adjustments to maintain a stable orbit. This requires deviation from a straight-line course but that's much more acceptable than an unstable refueling point.

It's not gravitationally neutral, but the orbital mechanics are such that any minor deviation from either L4 or L5 (caused by outlying planets etc) would result in a net force drawing the orbiting object back to the original point. Gravitational stability, rather than "neutral".

And yes, this would be a wonderful thing for trips to Mars. If a rocket carries enough fuel to reach the refueling station, then its payload can be much higher than a rocket that has to carry enough fuel to reach Mars (and land) in a single stage.

Re:illogical (5, Interesting)

Immerman (2627577) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:illogical - lots of sunlight (1)

MichaelPenne (605299) | about 2 years ago | (#42381781)

Presumably they would use sunlight gathered by solar panels for power to spit the H2O. I don't think the challenge here is to find the most efficient (in terms of using the least amount of energy) way to power the spacecraft- but rather to provide fuel the spacecraft can use in its rockets.

One could be much more purely efficient with a solar sail or the like, no conversion, but they don't accelerate very quickly and have some problems tacking.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381795)

They probably mean the Lagrangian points:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point

Re:illogical (-1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#42382127)

Probably but if you're pointing a tiny spaceship at a tiny rock. If you're off by 0.0000001 degrees at that distance, you'll miss it by A LOT. So yeah, it'll stay mostly where you left it but with Saturn, Earth, etc pulling on it, it's going to move a bit. Jupiter and the Sun aren't the only objects in our solar system and there is no point at which an object would simply "stand still." Since GPS doesn't work in space and Apple Maps especially doesn't work in space, that asteroid base better be exactly where you left it because you can't make unlimited course corrections to go find it due to limited fuel.

Re:illogical (2)

blueg3 (192743) | about 2 years ago | (#42381865)

The energy to split apart hydrogen from oxygen in water always exceeds or equals the energy received by burning the hydrogen. Welcome to physics.

Yes, but hydrogen and oxygen are more useful as rocket fuel than sunlight, electricity, or water. Plus, the rocket that's to be refueled doesn't have to haul the water, fuel, or energy to the refueling point. Welcome to engineering.

Also, they're going to tow out a bunch of fuel and supplies, let's say halfway to Mars. Then they're going to launch a 2nd spacecraft and stop there to go get it. I have an idea. How about they put all the supplies on the first spacecraft instead and don't make a pitstop then just deal with the extra weight, which sounds easier than lassoing an asteroid.

Great idea. I bet the people at NASA have never thought of your "build a bigger rocket" solution.

Re:illogical (0)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#42382085)

Energy is energy. Put the solar energy into an engine like an ION thruster and it'll be more efficient than making hydrogen. If you're going to mention that hauling water into orbit would suck and that there's less solar energy near Mars, that's a decent point but nuclear engines work wherever you are. If they push a submarine through water for 50 years, they can probably push a spaceship through nothing.

Re:illogical (2)

blueg3 (192743) | about 2 years ago | (#42382195)

Energy is energy. Put the solar energy into an engine like an ION thruster and it'll be more efficient than making hydrogen.

You can't put light in a box and store it on a rocket. You can't even put electricity in a box and store it on a rocket, you need some way -- usually chemical -- of storing the energy. Rocket fuel is pretty efficient in that regard. An ion thruster ("ion", not "ION") uses electricity, so it would only really be worthwhile if you have the solar power generation on the rocket. Except using solar power to drive a rocket is really slow, which creates its own serious engineering problems. Splitting water, you can concentrate years' worth of solar energy into a portable fuel.

The fact that all forms of energy are not equally-useful is one of the reasons we're not all driving electric cars and flying electric planes.

nuclear engines work wherever you are

Except in space, they have nothing to push against. You have to shed mass, preferably at high velocities, to move a rocket. That mass is fuel, whether combustible or not, and it tends to run out. (Nuclear power plants also are a bit on the complicated side. There are nuclear power sources that are uncomplicated -- RTGs -- and they already use these in satellites. They provide very little power, though.)

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382113)

Great idea. I bet the people at NASA have never thought of your "build a bigger rocket" solution.

They did, but Apple patented it last year. This is the workaround.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381867)

It's easier to store H2 and O2 and explode them to generate force efficiently than it is to capture electrons and use a plasma thruster.

Re:illogical (2)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | about 2 years ago | (#42382141)

Storing H2 is a massive pain in the ass; it leaks out of the tank, the atoms are so small. There are other problems with it too. Better to combine it with carbon to make methane and only crack it to get the desired liquid hydrogen shortly before you plan on using it.

That having been said, I'd rather use electric propulsion using oxygen as fuel (it's much more practical) whenever possible. Carbon monoxide & oxygen is lousy but can be made from the Martian atmosphere. Aluminum & oxygen is also lousy but can be made from lunar rocks and soil.

Hydrogen that is convenient for use in space by us without amazing science fiction technology is fairly rare. Helium too, which is important stuff to use in conjunction with hydrogen (it helps to push the fuel into the engine).

Re:illogical (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#42381911)

And you know, NASA doesn't have anyone who understands basic thermodynamics or orbital mechanics. [rolls eyes]

Other posters have already pointed out the specific problems with what you wrote, but what bugs me more about this post, and the thousands more like it, on just about any story dealing with any scientific topic, is the inherent assumption that some random dude on /. has seen an obvious logical hole that the people whose job it is to study the subject every day for years have missed, usually based on said random /.er's half-remembered high school "science class" or undergrad Physics 101 class. Now, this is certainly possible--in all fields, amateurs sometimes see things that the professionals miss--but it's really not the way to bet.

Try thinking before you post. Just give it a shot sometime. You might be surprised by the results.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382037)

usually based on said random /.er's half-remembered high school "science class" or undergrad Physics 101 class.

Those people are truly the worst. They pretend to understand the information they memorized from the classes, but all they're really doing is mindlessly repeating it over and over; they don't understand a bit of it. The high school classes are typically awful, anyway.

Re:illogical (2)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#42382089)

I see an obvious logical hole in your post in that this is from the Daily Mail and NASA refused to comment on this entire plan or new story. They probably think it's as stupid as I do.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381931)

This is not a closed system. The energy to split the water (should say "ice") could come from solar, or a nuclear reactor, or radioisotope battery.

Re:illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381967)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrange_point [wikipedia.org] . that is all.

Re:illogical (1)

Vecanti (2384840) | about 2 years ago | (#42382029)

"water which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel" The energy to split apart hydrogen from oxygen in water always exceeds or equals the energy received by burning the hydrogen. Welcome to physics.

But when combined with solar and free water, then you are just basically talking about a "battery" or actually, more just a storage medium. If there is water or ice on the asteroid and they can use solar equipment to just sit up there and split it and store the Hydrogen and Oxygen that is.. I mean sure you could haul around heavy batteries and charge those, but being able to refuel with some 'free' Hydrogen and have extra stores of Oxygen in the middle space to breath would be a bonus.

How does this help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381689)

I understand why refueling in Earth orbit makes sense, but I really don't understand the advantage of using an astroid as a way-station.

In order to use the astroid, one has to first match orbits with it, and then one has to change orbits again to get to the desired destination. Those seem like wasteful maneuvers. It isn't like stepping on a log that just happens to be floating by on a river; instead, both the ship and the fuel must match orbits with the astroid, and then the ship must change orbits to reach its original destination.

Wouldn't it be better to just refuel in Earth orbit?

(I'm serious about this, if anyone can enlighten me, I would appreciate it!)

Re:How does this help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381703)

>Wouldn't it be better to just refuel in Earth orbit?

What makes you think that isn't also part of the plan? The Way station will top them off so they have enough fuel for a return trip. You know, because mars has no breathable atmosphere or food or potable water, which would make living there pretty hard.

I love how all the pseudo-intellectuals here think they can come up with a better plan than the eggheads at NASA all while not showing their work.

Re:How does this help? (1)

longhairedgnome (610579) | about 2 years ago | (#42381733)

Beyond the manuevers you mentioned, think of the space inside the asteroid that can be used to house people and facilities. Check out 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. In that novel, asteroids are turned into solar system cruising space ships.

Re:How does this help? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 2 years ago | (#42382049)

I believe that they are planning on placing this in Earth orbit, since the summary mentions capturing an asteroid that is between the Earth and the Moon.

Self Fulfilling Prophecy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381691)

Would it not be great irony if the effort later causes the asteroid to crash on Earth.

Re:Self Fulfilling Prophecy (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 2 years ago | (#42381919)

Would it not be great irony if the effort later causes the asteroid to crash on Earth.

Self ironic irony an iRON asteroid?

Sounds familiar (1)

smg5266 (2440940) | about 2 years ago | (#42381709)

Ya I heard they found plastic on Mars too.

'tis hoped that... (1)

longhairedgnome (610579) | about 2 years ago | (#42381717)

Editors edit submissions.

There's an asteroid in orbit about the earth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381719)

According to this article, the asteroid in question is between the earth and the moon. Wouldn't that make it a moon of the earth? Granted, a very small moon, but a moon none-the-less.

Units (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381731)

The 1.6bn-pound plan ... release a 50ft diameter ... estimated 300kg.

Can't trust an article that can't even keep its units in check.

Re:Units (1)

Faluzeer (583626) | about 2 years ago | (#42382039)

The 1.6bn-pound plan ... release a 50ft diameter ... estimated 300kg.

Can't trust an article that can't even keep its units in check.

Hmmm

The daily mail is a UK "newspaper". The 1.6 billion pound figure is currency, not units of weight.

Verify your sources? Why? (1)

Minwee (522556) | about 2 years ago | (#42381747)

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.

Caltech PDF link (4, Informative)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 2 years ago | (#42381853)

Here is the link to the pdf download at California Institute of Technology: http://www.caltech.edu/search/sites/asteroids%20nasa#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=asteroids%20nasa&gsc.page=1 [caltech.edu]

Re:Caltech PDF link (1)

Herve5 (879674) | about 2 years ago | (#42382237)

This definitely is a serious (very futuristic) study about capturing an asteroid, but absolutely not about "turning it into a space station"; the only objective is validating the capture AFAIK.
This said, may I add having a random rock linked to a space station, well, would bring the same benefits than, well, having same rock linked to the current space station: just absolutely nothing.

Mission to Mars... (1)

amoeba1911 (978485) | about 2 years ago | (#42381761)

It's not hard to get to Mars, the hard part is getting back.

Mining and refining in space (5, Interesting)

NoNeeeed (157503) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Mining and refining in space (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#42381949)

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 wouldn't be frying themselves as a side effect.

Re:Mining and refining in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382129)

The whole point of mining an asteroid is that it doesn't have to be launched out of earths gravity. It's already there.

Re:Mining and refining in space (1)

Megane (129182) | about 2 years ago | (#42382181)

...because we don't have enough iron on Earth already?

Re:Mining and refining in space (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#42382227)

...because we don't have enough iron on Earth already?

Compared to what we could get from mining (by whatever means) a few good-sized nickel-iron asteroids? No, we don't. Not nearly. The amounts and concentrations (the latter is maybe more important) of industrially useful metals floating around in the asteroid belt are just mind-boggling, and gaining access to those resources would be comparable to a second industrial revolution.

Re:Mining and refining in space (1)

Drgnkght (449916) | about 2 years ago | (#42382267)

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

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

Re:Mining and refining in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382255)

One system I can think of immediately is a tumble-drier design, and focus in sunlight rather than actually try to generate the power through an indirect method.
Spin that sucker around and you will have rings of materials rather than circular discs which we are normally used to.
Considerably simpler spinning and smelting system, but dealing with the rings will now be the more complicated part. Basically balancing the complexity really.

Alternatively send in so much sunlight that you vaporize the material and just send it through a very efficient mass spectrometer designed very specifically for separation of materials. Costly, but might be cheaper than designing the other system altogether and researching cheap ways to deal with the rings.

Not that cheap would be a problem after you mine a damn asteroid, even one would pay off this simply due to bulk.
Just try telling that to the morons in charge of budgets. Apparently looking past the initial price is too much for these morons.
Too busy throwing large numbers at other pointless things, like wars.
Shit like THIS would STOP wars because of the massive numbers of materials it could provide for human expansion on levels we couldn't even begin to imagine. (and fear)

Iron space stations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381811)

"Some are full of iron which could be used for in the making of new space stations"

I thought space stations were made of lightweight materials such as aluminum. Besides, how exactly are they going to process that raw iron mineral into usable parts and were will the large amounts of energy needed to do so come from?

Re:Iron space stations? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 2 years ago | (#42381877)

Probably a factor that make them to be of lightweight materials are lifting it from Earth surface. Building it in orbit could take out (or at least, not be so critical) that factor.

Re:Iron space stations? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382093)

Once it's in space, weight is not much of an issue for a space station (microgravity, yo) though mass and inertia would still be present.

They have an enourmous quantity of unfiltered solar energy - enough to generate all the power they need to refine ore. You can melt it directly in a focussed sunbeam, and zero-G processing, while fraught with problems, offers unprecedented purity and crystal structures.

NERDGESM!!! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381815)

i peed myself, just like I peed myself when I read of the formation of Planetary Resources.
I've been hoping for something like this forever, since at least the Homeworld games (mining space debris). I've posted and talked to numerous people that this should happen, most people thought I was retarded nuts bat shit crazy stupid in the head. YAY!

action == reaction (4, Insightful)

swschrad (312009) | about 2 years ago | (#42381847)

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

Re:action == reaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381995)

Just ensure you net zero your departure forces over time. you can always spend a few minutes getting far enough away before you fire your main thusters.

Re:action == reaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381997)

two opposing actions == neutral ?
Launch on both sides that produces equal and opposite action, keeping it neutral ? :-)

Beware of the location (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 2 years ago | (#42381903)

the irony of being attacked/impacted by something we decided to put in a trojan point will be fatal.

Re:Beware of the location (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382177)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mobile_Suit_Gundam_Wing_locations#L5-A0206 ?

Captcha: ejected

Bad marketing. (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 2 years ago | (#42381913)

"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.

Gravitational neutral spot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381933)

A Lunar elevator needs a counterweight in L1 or L2 Moon-Earth lagrange points, perhaps NASA has plans to build an elevator too? Also 500 ton (tonne?) is about the weight of the ISS, and with the VSMIR drives that they are going to be testing soon on the ISS perhaps these new drives can move an ISS sized asteroid. I think this is all pretty exciting give us more of the big picture NASA.

"Bag" a spinning asteroid? (1)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 2 years ago | (#42381957)

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?

Star Base 2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42381993)

It's be a great idea if you can somehow create an artifical gravity by spinning the asteroid and building "upside down" in caves so what on Earth is the ceiling is the floor. Residents of the base should experience as close to 1G of gravity as possible to not have health issues. Building deep enough into the asteroid would create shielding against the Sun's radiation/flares and protect against small meteorites. The poles would be the docking areas, perhaps an Outward and a Sunward port with different decon and other facilities. You can have a smaller asteroid nearby as a low-gravity lab, base for the autonomous exploratory and mining drones, etc.

All from an agency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382051)

That cant lasso a budget or interest

woulda coulda (1)

drankr (2796221) | about 2 years ago | (#42382081)

Yes, and I *would* be a science officer on this new, thusly lassoed, space station. Or I could just be a gas jockey, seeing how the place will be used for refueling purposes. Really I *would* take either job... but will I? I just don't think there's enough money in the world for space exploration of any serious kind to be done by governments. All those bloody wars are expensive. Unless, that is, commercial entities with commercial interests prod governments to do it. After all they prod them to bloody wars.

Some Broad Stoke Solves (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42382119)

Ok. NASA / JPL you can pay me. I'm going to solves your issues with broad strokes and answer some criticisms I've heard.

The Asteroids are relatively small and could be set at Lagrange points

A Mirror Array could be set up to provide a centrifugal spin to the to asteroid
there by providing a gravitational pull which could be augmented with thrusters.

At tunnel Borer with a 3 - 10' diameter could be used to carve out workable space

You would need a prefab crucible structure, a fabrication / machine shop in
addition to communications, lab, habitation, Hydroponics / Life support and power generation

But above all you'd need a real commitment of time, energy, resources and long term will.
Sadly I can't point to the Math or Science to make that last part happen.

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