Friday, April 5, 2013

A Gutsy Asteroid Move!

"NASA's fiscal 2014 budget request will include $100 million for a new mission to find a small asteroid, capture it with a robotic spacecraft, and bring it into range of human explorers somewhere in the vicinity of the Moon," according to Aviation Week and Space Technology. For more detail on the concept behind this mission see A Comparison of Astronaut Near-Earth Object Missions by the Asteroid Mining Group (including yours truly) and/or the more detailed Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study by the Keck Institute at JPL.

If successful, I believe this is a game-changing mission. There would be roughly 500 tons of asteroid safely stored in a convenient, easy-to-get-to orbit. It is reasonable to expect that the government would lease mining rights, which is done all the time with federal lands on Earth, at little or no cost. Thus, one of the hardest parts of space mining would be accomplished, the first delivery of large amounts of extra-terrestrial material much closer to potential customers (i.e., people on Earth and the satellite industry). The asteroid mining industry would get a huge lift not only from the materials delivered, but the fact that a second (or third or ...) delivery would cost much less.

Furthermore, put enough of these missions together and you have the materials to build the first space settlement in Earth orbit! Admittedly, this would requie a lot of missions and/or returning larger asteroids. Still, this mission would be a significant step on one of the Paths to Space Settlement, my vision of the most effective approach to space settlement.

If you think this mission has merit, consider contacting your elected representatives.