How Do You Put An Asteroid Into Earth Orbit? Carefully!

Why put an asteroid in Earth orbit? To get to the goodies, that's why - see Neil deGrasse Tyson Says Asteroid Miners Will Be First Trillionaires if you don't believe me.

A recent paper published in Acta Astronautica suggests that asteroids could be captured in Earth’s orbit with aerobraking, a maneuver that uses atmospheric drag to decelerate and position objects in stable trajectories around a planet. Aerobraking has helped place interplanetary spacecraft in orbit around Mars and Venus, and to slow down spacecraft returning to Earth.

Led by Minghu Tan, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, the paper immediately addresses the most obvious concern with this scenario: What if there’s some mistake in the redirect process and an asteroid accidentally impacts Earth? It’s bad enough that the dinosaurs were oblivious to their doomsday space rock, but it would be especially embarrassing if we humans smack ourselves in the face with one.

Tan and his co-authors suggest mitigating this risk by selecting asteroids under 30 meters in diameter for aerobraking, as they’d burn up in the atmosphere if the maneuver failed. Tan also told me, in an email, that a redirected asteroid might collide with spacecraft in orbit around Earth. That’s why “accurate guidance and control strategies would be required,” he said.

(Via Motherboard.)

As far as I know, the first guy to write descriptively about moving an asteroid into a more desirable spot was Robert Heinlein, in one of his earliest short stories Misfit, published in 1939:

"Now about our job -- We didn't get one of the easy repair-and-recondition jobs on the Moon, with week-ends at Luna City, and all the comforts of home. Nor did we draw a high gravity planet where a man can eat a full meal and expect to keep it down. Instead we've got to go out to Asteroid HS-5388 and turn it into Space Station E-M3. She has no atmosphere at all, and only about two per cent Earth-surface gravity. We've got to play human fly on her for at least six months, no girls to date, no television, no recreation that you don't devise yourselves, and hard work every day. You'll get space sick, and so homesick you can taste it, and agoraphobia. If you aren't careful you'll get ray-burnt. Your stomach will act up, and you'll wish to God you'd never enrolled.

"But if you behave yourself, and listen to the advice of the old spacemen, you'll come out of it strong and healthy, with a little credit stored up in the bank, and a lot of knowledge and experience that you wouldn't get in forty years on Earth. You'll be men, and you'll know it..."
(Read more about moving an asteroid)

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