NASA May Capture Asteroid to Orbit Moon

By Sally Appert On January 14, 2013 @ 3:00 pm In Space & Astronomy | No Comments

Illustration of an asteroid retrieval spacecraft in the process of capturing a 7-meter, 500-ton asteroid. (Rick Sternbach/KISS)

Illustration of an asteroid retrieval spacecraft in the process of capturing a 7-meter, 500-ton asteroid. (Rick Sternbach/KISS)

Scientists at NASA have been asking themselves: what would happen if we caught an asteroid and dragged it a little closer to home?

A team from the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) wrote a paper describing how this might be achieved. Their research suggests that we could place an asteroid into the moon’s orbit by 2025.

With an asteroid so close to Earth, scientists would be able to study it more easily, and mine it for metals such as iron, nickel, and cobalt.

“The idea of exploiting the natural resources of asteroids dates back over a hundred years, but only now has the technology become available to make this idea a reality,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

They proposed sending a spacecraft out to an asteroid and releasing a bag about 10 by 15 meters (11 by 16 yards) to capture it. Then the spacecraft would bring back the asteroid and send it revolving around the moon.

The asteroid would have to be about seven meters (eight yards) in diameter. If it were much smaller than that, it would be too difficult to find one, and if it were much larger, it would be too difficult to drag back to the moon.

This plan could also assist some other missions. For example, NASA is planning to send a manned spacecraft around the moon, and considering having people land on an asteroid.

If an asteroid were orbiting the moon, both those missions could be combined into one.

“Placing a 500-ton asteroid in high lunar orbit would provide a unique, meaningful, and affordable destination for astronaut crews in the next decade,” the researchers wrote.

The paper can be accessed here.

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