Chinese researchers look at possibility of capturing asteroids in Earth orbit

Sep 02, 2011 by Bob Yirka weblog
Trajectory of 2008EA9 before and after orbit maneuver. Image from arXiv:1108.4767v1 [astro-ph.EP]

(PhysOrg.com) -- In an interesting twist regarding the study of asteroids and what happens when they come close to our planet, Hexi Baoyin and his two colleagues, Yang Chen and Junfeng Li at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China have been looking into the possibility of nudging one or more Near Earth Objects (NEOs) into an orbit around the Earth, initially for study, but later on, for the financial windfall that might be had if such an asteroid could be mined for its precious metals. The team has published their results on the pre-print server, arXiv.

For as long as man has been aware of the danger of asteroids or comets hitting our planet, there have been ideas put forth as to ways in which they could deterred or destroyed. As technology has improved, the ideas have become ever more feasible. But until now, it appears no one has thought seriously about turning what could be a problem for us, into a goldmine, so to speak.

In their paper, the team writes about how they’ve been studying how an occasional asteroid has been known to be naturally captured in an orbit around Jupiter, where it stays for a while until it is eventually flung back out into space. The comet, Oterma, for example did just that in 1936. This got them to wondering if any such NEO might be lurking around out there all set to do the same for our planet. Unfortunately, their search turned up empty. Undaunted they then began looking into whether there might be an NEO or two that might come awfully close, and found that indeed there were.

One in particular caught their eye, an called 2008EA9; at just ten meters across it seems a perfect candidate. Not only is it small enough that if efforts to snag it went asunder and the thing instead plunged into the Earth, it would likely burn up in the atmosphere, but it also just happens to have an orbital velocity near to that of Earth’s. In doing the math, the team found that if they were to speed it up by just 410 meters per second, they could give it just enough of a nudge to cause it to go into an around the , at about a distance twice that of the moon. Close enough to study it, and perhaps bring back samples.

The team, and everyone else presumably, has plenty of time to consider the practicalities and dangers of such a mission, however, as 2008EA9 won’t come around again until 2049.

Explore further: Heavy metal frost? A new look at a Venusian mystery

More information: Capturing Near Earth Objects, Hexi Baoyin, Yang Chen, Junfeng Li, arXiv:1108.4767v1 [astro-ph.EP] arxiv.org/abs/1108.4767

Abstract
Recently, Near Earth Objects (NEOs) have been attracting great attention, and thousands of NEOs have been found to date. This paper examines the NEOs' orbital dynamics using the framework of an accurate solar system model and a Sun-Earth-NEO three-body system when the NEOs are close to Earth to search for NEOs with low-energy orbits. It is possible for such an NEO to be temporarily captured by Earth; its orbit would thereby be changed and it would become an Earth-orbiting object after a small increase in its velocity. From the point of view of the Sun-Earth-NEO restricted three-body system, it is possible for an NEO whose Jacobian constant is slightly lower than C1 and higher than C3 to be temporarily captured by Earth. When such an NEO approaches Earth, it is possible to change its orbit energy to close up the zero velocity surface of the three-body system at point L1 and make the NEO become a small satellite of the Earth. Some such NEOs were found; the best example only required a 410m/s increase in velocity.

via ArXiv blog, Discovery news

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User comments : 28

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nxtr
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 02, 2011
by 2049 we'll either be taken over by the singularity or private corporations will be mining full scale in the asteroid belt.
Sanescience
3.6 / 5 (12) Sep 02, 2011
Neither. I suspect the "singularity" is an idealistic result of altruistic intellect, but most humans would not be so giving with truly transformative technologies.

Sadly, until humanity begins to grapple with the issue of identifying and isolating from positions of power it's sociopathic and psychopathic members, no form of government or set of laws will prevent the abuses of individuals in key positions of politics and industry/business that threaten social stability.

Oh, and on mining asteroids for precious metals for use here on Earth... only going to happen in fantasy science land. Or until far in the future when energy is unlimited and living and travel among the planets is taken for granted.
lengould100
2.9 / 5 (11) Sep 02, 2011
"identifying and isolating from positions of power it's sociopathic and psychopathic members" -- Exactly. Excellent!
ACW
5 / 5 (5) Sep 02, 2011
Back in the 60s, everyone thought surely that we would have made it to Mars by now. Sadly, humans have not progressed beyond LEO since Apollo.
lengould100
2.5 / 5 (13) Sep 02, 2011
Since the conquest of our economic system by neo-liberalism (Thatcherism / Reaganomics), nothing gets done unless the elites can profit from it. No profit in space, heavy lift vehicles are too expensive.
vencetti
5 / 5 (5) Sep 02, 2011
For space to ever become viable economically, we need to radically reduce the launch to orbit costs. The last figure I saw was $10,000 per pound.
El_Nose
5 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2011
well if you can snag a NEO then all you need is for a great advancement in making a CNT cable. Nasa does a energy transmission contest every year to see how far a climber can go up a rope ... for just such an occasion as a space elevator becomes feasible.
GDM
2.5 / 5 (6) Sep 02, 2011
If you go to the NASA/JPL orbital diagrams for this asteroid, the Earth will catch up to it on Nov. 28, 2019, at which time it will be at its closest (2.5 million miles). Good opportunity for a probe or to alter its orbit. Mining the asteroids and the moon are not for use here on Earth, but for creating a self-sufficient space-faring civilization. It will happen in our lifetimes (and I'm getting old).
plasticpower
2 / 5 (3) Sep 02, 2011
I they snagged a large enough asteroid they could fling it at some country when they're done studying/mining it. But then again, a nuke is cheaper..
kaypee
2 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2011
I'm sure this is raising red flags at the Pentagon.
Jeddy_Mctedder
2 / 5 (8) Sep 02, 2011
everyone on here is commenting on future scenarios . how sad is this one?

20 years ago, everyone thought we'd be active on the ocean bottom.

now, we're only starting to put a select few cameras as observation stations below the ocean. and we're beginning to use drone tech for subsurface exploration and data collection.
besides that, all we have is the same old microphones all over the ocean listening to submarine motions to that our military can keeep our submarines busy avoiding other ones, or in the case of attack submarines....looking for them.
Dug
2.5 / 5 (6) Sep 02, 2011
Given current projections for 3-5 billion increase in population, peak petroleum's dramatic increase in fuel costs, coupled peak and depletion of phosphate (95% human food production is dependent on NPK fertilizers) - it's doubtful that we will have the option or the interest in worrying about mining asteroids - unless they contain phosphate - which is apparently available on the dark side of the moon.
Urgelt
5 / 5 (5) Sep 02, 2011
This is not a new idea, but an old one brushed off and made specific to a particular NEO. But a 10-meter object is not much to bother with; and the absolutely worst thing to do with it is to mine it and deliver the products to Earth.

Metals, carbon and ice in Earth orbit will be far more valuable if used in orbit for construction and manufacturing volatiles. It's mass we don't have to lift out of our gravity well. Park it at a LaGrange point and build.

The spacecraft we need to establish colonies on Mars or Jovian moons can be built in space from such materials. Nor do we need to use humans to do the work. Advancing robotics is the key to our off-Earth future. Humans can go when their ride is waiting and the cities to house them on Mars and elsewhere are already built.
Sonhouse
4.8 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2011
Of course a 10 meter asteroid would not be of much industrial interest, but more of a training exercise.
TAz00
2 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2011
Fuck all that. Start mining anti protons from the magnetic fields of the earth!
socean
5 / 5 (3) Sep 02, 2011
10 meters eh? I think we might find it inhabited by a little prince, a rose, and a sheep.
frajo
4 / 5 (5) Sep 03, 2011
"identifying and isolating from positions of power it's sociopathic and psychopathic members" -- Exactly. Excellent!

Unfortunately, the notion of sociopathic and psychopathic behavior magically originating in certain individuals has been demonstrated to be just a fairy tale. (See e.g. the Milgram experiments.)

It's the positions of power that have to be defused or removed if we want an end of sociopathic and psychopathic behavior.
Pyramidal power structures are _generating_ sociopathic behavior. They have been the dominant social structure for ten thousand years.
Now it's about time to switch to spherical networking structures - coordinated cooperation with built-in regulation of any node that tries to heighten itself above his neighbour nodes.
Code_Warrior
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 03, 2011
Now it's about time to switch to spherical networking structures - coordinated cooperation with built-in regulation of any node that tries to heighten itself above his neighbour nodes.


This makes me think of the whack-a-mole game... Also makes me think of the Borg...
Telekinetic
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 03, 2011

Unfortunately, the notion of sociopathic and psychopathic behavior magically originating in certain individuals has been demonstrated to be just a fairy tale. (See e.g. the Milgram experiments.)

I have to disagree with that because childhood abuse will absolutely lay the groundwork necessary for psychotic behavior that will reveal itself early on and then later, when the psychotic individual works his way up the ladder of power, using his sociopathic skills to convince others that he's well-meaning.
I agree with your other statements about the sharing of power, but again, early fear-ridden childhood conditions are responsible for the populace bending to the will of authoritarian leaders.("The Mass Psychology of Fascism"-Wilhelm Reich) It's a vicious cycle that's further girded by faulty capitalism and social skepticism that humans have the capacity for self-governance.
@ lengould100:
Reaganomics was the revival of CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN economic policy.
Telekinetic
1.9 / 5 (7) Sep 03, 2011
If anyone can pull off the "Space Elevator" it would be the Chinese, simply by standing on each other's shoulders and handing down chunks of asteroid to the fellow below.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1.7 / 5 (9) Sep 03, 2011
,,, yea pull an asteroid into orbit around earth and then wait for the right time to use it as a missile against a country you don't like.

we're onto you china! :)
Burnerjack
5 / 5 (2) Sep 03, 2011
Interfering with the orbits of Near Earth Objects. Cool. What could possibly go wrong?
blazingspark
5 / 5 (2) Sep 04, 2011
Mining asteroids will be possible one day. If we have the infrastructure to mine up there it will be possible to build shelters in space. Use silicates to make homes in space with thick walls that could be solar flare resistant.. Keep the metals to make more ships. Asteroids have water for oxygen and hydrogen.

It may sound far fetched now, but if we don't try we'll never get anywhere. I want a future where we all have abundant energy and resources. What we need is to get it started. Get 1000 tonne launch capacity. Get some real industry going up there. Or find a way to lower costs and send things up in lots of small pieces.

Here is a possible option: http://nextbigfut...ess.html
antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 05, 2011
Mining asteroids will be possible one day.

That day is a bit off, as the cost per ton of ore would be extremely high.

Check out the costs per ton of raw materials dug up on earth - and we've only scratched the surface of all deposits on land. We haven't even started to dig down deep or go into ocean floor mining. Both of which will remain a LOT cheaper than mining asteroids for the foreseeable future.
GDM
1 / 5 (1) Sep 06, 2011
Correct, a-p, but the real value of mining the moon and asteroids is not the products they return to the earth, but the refined materials they deliver to space-based, or lunar-based, factories. A lot of this could be started with off-the-shelf products today using teleoperated robots on the moon.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.1 / 5 (7) Sep 06, 2011
It's the positions of power that have to be defused or removed if we want an end of sociopathic and psychopathic behavior.
Pyramidal power structures are _generating_ sociopathic behavior. They have been the dominant social structure for ten thousand years.
Now it's about time to switch to spherical networking structures - coordinated cooperation with built-in regulation of any node that tries to heighten itself above his neighbour nodes.
Perhaps your opinions stem from a worldview colored by your own paranoid sociopathy? Would you know this if it were true? Is it normal to fear leaders? I suggest you ask yourself these questions.
childhood abuse will absolutely lay the groundwork necessary for psychotic behavior
Humans, like any other animal, evolved in the context of conflict and predation. Life was- hows it go?- solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Kids suffered the most. You want proper explanations for errant behavior youve got to stop blaming your parents.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.1 / 5 (7) Sep 06, 2011
By the way
Pyramidal power structures are _generating_ sociopathic behavior. They have been the dominant social structure for ten thousand years.
Tribes have always had Leaders. Ape bands have dominant members who decide where to go and what to do. Leaders are obviously an intrinsic part of human culture and evolution.

Still more reasons to suspect your irrational disconnects.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 06, 2011
That day is a bit off, as the cost per ton of ore would be extremely high.
Of course it depends on what we might get from asteroids. And it also assumes that we would be bringing stuff down from orbit rather than processing it and using it up there, which makes a lot more sense and is also inevitable.