What's the Latest Development?
A new paper published in Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy describes how University of Strathclyde scientists surveyed close to 10,000 identified near-Earth objects -- defined as those asteroids and comets that come within 120 million miles of this planet -- and found 12 that could be brought closer using existing technology. With the right kind of spacecraft, and the right amount of fuel, the authors report that "the total asteroid mass that could be transferred...is close to 400 tons." Also, by towing the asteroid at a speed below 500 meters per second, the spacecraft could bring it to a relatively close orbit within three to 7.5 years.
What's the Big Idea?
NASA has already stated that it plans to retrieve an asteroid and put it into orbit around the moon, but it's given itself until 2025 to do it, a date that some consider unrealistic. However, even if an earlier date isn't possible, the asteroids identified in the paper may serve as possible candidates for a mission. The authors also warn about the risks involved: "[T]here could be a justified concern regarding the possibility of an uncontrolled re-entry of a temporary captured asteroid into Earth atmosphere."
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