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Gravitational capture opportunites for asteroid retrieval missions

Sanchez Cuartielles, Joan-Pau and Garcia Yarnoz, Daniel and Alessi, Elisa Maria and McInnes, Colin (2012) Gravitational capture opportunites for asteroid retrieval missions. In: 63rd International Astronautical Congress, 2012-10-01 - 2012-10-05.

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Abstract

Asteroids and comets are of strategic importance for science in an effort to uncover the formation, evolution and composition of the Solar System. Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are of particular interest because of its accessibility from Earth, but also because of their speculated wealth of resources. The exploitation of these resources has long been discussed as a means to lower the cost of future space endeavours. In this paper, we analyze the possibility of retrieving entire objects from accessible heliocentric orbits and moving them into the Earth’s neighbourhood. The asteroid retrieval transfers are sought from the continuum of low energy transfers enabled by the dynamics of invariant manifolds; specifically, the retrieval transfers target planar, vertical Lyapunov and halo orbit families associated with the collinear equilibrium points of the Sun-Earth Circular Restricted Three Body problem. The judicious use of these dynamical features provides the best opportunity to find extremely low energy Earth transfers for asteroidal material. With the objective to minimise transfer costs, a global search of impulsive transfers connecting the unperturbed asteroid’s orbit with the stable manifold phase of the transfer is performed. A catalogue of asteroid retrieval opportunities of currently known NEOs is presented here. Despite the highly incomplete census of very small asteroids, the catalogue can already be populated with 12 different objects retrievable with less than 500 m/s of Δv. All, but one, of these objects have an expected size and transfer requirements that can be met by current propulsion technologies. Moreover, the methodology proposed represents a robust search for future retrieval candidates that can be automatically applied to a growing survey of NEOs.