NASA scientists are planning to capture a 5,00,000 kg asteroid, relocate it and transform it into a space station for astronauts to refuel at on their way to Mars.
It would be the first time a celestial object has ever been moved by humans, a media report said.
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.
A feasibility report prepared by NASA and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) scientists outlined how they would go about capturing the asteroid.
An ‘asteroid capture capsule’ would be attached to an old Atlas V rocket and directed the asteroid between the Earth and the Moon.
Once close, the asteroid capsule would release a 50 ft diameter bag that wrap around the spinning rock using drawstrings, the paper said.
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 gravitationally neutral spot.
From here space explorers would have a stationary base from which to launch trips deeper into space.
“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,” the report said.
“The feasibility is enabled by three key developments: the ability to discover and characterise 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,” it said.
NASA declined to comment on the project because it said it was in negotiations with the White House, but it is believed that technology would make it possible within 10-12 years.
The technology would also open up the possibility of mining other asteroids for their metals and minerals.
Some are full of iron which could be used for in the making of new space stations, others are made up of water which could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel.