Here’s one bold plan from NASA – capturing an asteroid, relocating it and then turning it into a space station for astronauts to refuel at on their way to Mars.
The White House’s Office of Science and technology will consider the $2.6 billion plan in the coming weeks as it prepares to set its space exploration agenda for the next decade. This will also be the first time a celestial object has ever been moved by humans, at least that we know of.
How will they do it? According to a report prepared by NASA and Caltech, an ‘asteroid capture capsule’ would be attached to an old Atlas V rocket, directing the asteroid between the Earth and the Moon. Once it gets close to the asteroid, the capsule would release a 50 ft diameter bag that wrap around the spinning rock using drawstrings.
The craft would then turn on its thrusters, using an estimated 300 kg of propellant, to stop the asteroid in its tracks and tow it into a gravitational neutral spot. According to the report … 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. It is enabled by three key developments: the ability to discover and characterize an adequate number of sufficiently small near-Earth asteroids for capture and return; the ability to implement sufficiently powerful solar electric propulsion systems to enable transportation of the captured asteroid; and the proposed human presence in cislunar space in the 2020s enabling exploration and exploitation of the returned asteroid.
Rough estimations say that the technology to pull off something like this might be ready in 10 to 12 years. It would also open up the possibility of mining other asteroids for their metals and minerals.