Common sense would suggest that humans would want to do everything possible to discourage the asteroids hurdling through solar system from heading towards Earth. But in the too-futuristic era of space rock mining, that’s just not the case anymore.
This was on the back of researchers’ minds when a team from the University of Strathclyde in the United Kingdom parsed through the list of 9000 near-Earth objects to find which ones could be easily blasted into accessible orbit. They found 12 candidates that could be sent this way by changing their velocity by just 500m per second. These asteroids, so-called “easily retrievable objects”, are all about a million kilometres from Earth, and existing rocket technology would be enough to provide the thrust.
Now, the question is what to do with them. That will probably be left up to the deep-pocketed founders of Planetary Resources. Unveiled last year, this asteroid mining company was founded by billionaires like Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, futurists like James Cameron and some NASA scientists. Their intended purpose is to wrangle and drill into some of the many thousands of near-Earth objects in search of valuable natural resources like, well, gold. Other asteroids are loaded with water that could prove incredible valuable to spacecraft in orbit. The challenge they all face now is how to grab the resource-rich asteroids.
The British researchers are undoubtedly onto something with their hunt for easily retrievable objects. If their research is correct, we could be lassoing asteroids into orbit within the next decade. And with each of those space rocks potentially holding billions of dollars worth of resources, it’ll be a veritable gold rush to get up there and drill into them. [Technology Review]