It would allow us to ensnare the aforementioned space rock and bring it to Earth to probe it for alien life, astronomers claimed. We may even be able to mine it for precious minerals and make some money from the whole endeavour. Astronomers from the University of Glasgow have published a new study explaining why ‘aerobraking’ an incoming asteroid would be a good idea.
“To guarantee that the candidate asteroids cannot present an impact risk during aerobraking, an initial aerobraking hazard analysis is undertaken and accordingly only asteroids with a diameter less than 30 m are considered as candidates in this paper,” they explain. “A Lambert arc in the Sun-asteroid two-body problem is used as an initial estimate for the transfer trajectory to the Earth and then a global optimisation is undertaken, using the total transfer energy cost and the retrieved asteroid mass ratio (due to ablation) as objective functions.”
This computer graphics image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows an asteroid and asteroid explorer Hayabusa2. The Japanese space explorer that will try to blow a crater in an asteroid and bring back samples from inside is nearing its destination after a 3 1/2 -year journey. (JAXA via AP)
What that second part means is that they can use Earth’s atmosphere as resistance to slow the speed of an incoming chunk of rock and then bring them into orbit where they can be studied and mined. The trick will be finding asteroids the right size.
Smaller chunks hit into Earth every day but are burned up by the power of our atmosphere. But if the rock is too big…well, put it this way: someone will be on the phone to Bruce Willis pronto. However, the astronomers say the whole process will involve an unmanned spacecraft meeting up with the asteroid long before it gets near to Earth. The craft would be able to apply just enough force to shift the vector of the incoming rock.
It would be a bit like a tugboat guiding a larger craft into port. The researchers have got a specific asteroid in mind for this project: 2005 VL1. They claim it has the right size and speed for the proposed mission – but we’re not sure NASA or SpaceX will be taking on this task any time soon. Bruce Willis was unavailable for comment.