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Monday, May 15, 2006

Might a Killer Asteroid be Mined?

Former Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart is concerned about the 1 in 1000 year average impact of a killer asteroid striking the Earth while others like Dr. John S. Lewis have advocated private sector mining of asteroid objects for their potential wealth. There is legal debate about the application of the Outer Space Treaty on moving or mining an asteroid based upon the term "use" and definition of "celestial body" within the space treaty.

Schweickart is advocating a new United Nations Treaty to address a global response to asteroids. The risk of doing nothing is great. On Sunday, April 13, 2036 a 1,000-foot-wide asteroid named 99942 Apophis could hit the Earth with a blast equal 880 million tons of TNT. NASA, at the direction of Congress, is tracking hundreds of asteroids while looking for other Near Earth Asteroids (NEOs).

Mining asteroids may be a profitable venture for the nascent commercial space firms by 2025 but it may be just in time. In 2029, seven years before the possible impact of Apophis, it will come closer to our planet than the television and weather satellites that beam back signals from 22,300 miles above. Some fear the close proximity will cause it to fall under gravitational influences to hit the Earth in 2036. Capture and mining the object may not only save the Earth from a catastrophic event but moreover asteroid mining could be a significant money maker for a would-be commercial space mining firm. Linked is a Planetary Radio interview with Schweickart.

1 comment:

A.R. Martin said...

Hello fellow space enthusiast. I just thought I should do a bit of an info brief here. As of August 5th 2006 Apophis was demoted to a level 0 on the Torino impact probability scale . The current calculated probability of Apophis is 1 in 250,000(It was as high as 1 in 32 at one time).

Also, the composition of Apophis most closely resembles that of an LL chondrite asteroid wich contains 19–22% total iron and only 0.3–3% metallic iron. That means that most of the iron is present as iron oxide (FeO) in the silicates; olivine contains 26 to 32 mol% fayalite (Fa). The most abundant minerals are hypersthene (a pyroxene) and olivine. Other minerals include Fe-Ni metal, troilite (FeS), feldspar or feldspathic glass, chromite, and phosphates.

Hypersthene and olivine are some of the most common compositions available on Earth. So, Apophis is not likely to be extremely valuable for mining. However, using it as a space port certainly has exciting potential and capturing it in geosync orbit would save a lot of money if you calculate how much it would cost to bring that amount of mass to escape velocity. I don't know about you, but I prefer good solid rock over living in a balloon. -Ad Astra