There is currently interest to mine asteroids for valuable resources, but drilling in microgravity is going to be a major challenge.
Exerting force on the asteroid will push an expensive drilling machine away and into the darkness of space. To address the issue, researchers from the University of Vienna has figured out a plan that will enable asteroid mining.
In the paper that appears in Research Gate, a team proposed a plan to build a space station into an asteroid that will mine it from the inside out.
Space Station Inside An Asteroid
The space station has to be built inside a solid rock that rotates several times per minute to provide the centrifugal force that will enable miners to drill from the center of the asteroid outward. Future miners do not even have to build inside the asteroids, the researchers said.
"If we find an asteroid that's stable enough, we might not need these aluminum walls or anything, you might just be able to use the entire asteroid as a space station," stated Thomas Maindl, the lead author of the study, to New Scientist.
Finding an asteroid that fits their criteria is crucial for the mission to succeed. According to calculations, the asteroid should spin one to three times a minute to create 38 percent of gravity of Earth, similar to the gravity on Mars.
There are also questions about whether the idea would be possible. Digging a tunnel and building a space station inside an asteroid could rip the rocky worlds apart. Activity within the asteroid could also stop it from spinning altogether, dooming the project from the start.
Maindl added that right now, it might not be possible to see their ideas applied in real life.
"The border between science and science fiction here is sort of blurry," he stated. "My gut feeling is that it will be at least 20 years before any asteroid mining happens, let alone something like this."
Mining In Space
There has been serious interest in mining in space for resources to be used on Earth or to support space stations and long voyages into deep space. The United States Geological Survey, last year, was tasked to map out and characterized valuable resources in space.
A few companies, such as Planetary Resources( an asteroid mining company) have also expressed plans to exploit space for materials.