Researchers at the Tsinghua University in Beijing recently published a plan just daring enough to work/make people nervous.
After an extensive review of the orbits of thousands of candidate near-Earth objects, the research team headed by Associate Professor Baoyin Hexi identified a small asteroid that with a nudge at the opportune moment would settle into a temporary Earth orbit.
The 410-meter-per-second-boost required to snare 30-foot-wide asteroid 2008EA9 is but a fraction of the propulsion cost required, for instance, for our spacecraft to get to low Earth orbit, (8,000 meters-per-second).
Attempting such a technical feat would be a boon for space logistics and exploration research by providing a simple, local target for investigation by astronauts. Further, the experience would exponentially improve our asteroid diversion know-how and spur the development of space resource/mining techniques.
Despite the terror-stoking hype that any asteroid-grab project is bound to inspire, the risks in this case are relatively low: few realize that asteroids of similar size (5-10 meters in diameter) hit the Earth’s atmosphere annually. While still packing the punch of an mid-twentieth century atom-bomb, these objects are small enough to vaporize in the upper atmosphere, and typically no one is the wiser for it.
I say let’s go for it. Any eccentric, research-minded philanthropists want to drop a fortune on lassoing a giant lump of primordial solar system?