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Near-Earth asteroid resource accessibility and future capture mission opportunities

Sanchez Cuartielles, Joan-Pau and Garcia Yarnoz, Daniel and McInnes, Colin (2012) Near-Earth asteroid resource accessibility and future capture mission opportunities. In: Global Space Exploration Conference, 2012-05-22 - 2012-05-24.


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In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) has always been suggested for ambitious space endeavours; and asteroids and comets in particular are generally agreed to be ideal sources, both in terms of its accessibility and wealth. The future utilisation of asteroid resources is here revisited by, firstly, providing an estimate of the total amount of accessible resources in the Earth’s neighbourhood and, secondly, by envisaging a series of missions in order to retrieve resources from the most accessible objects known today. An analytical multi-impulsive transfer model is proposed in order to define the region in Keplerian space from which resources are accessible, and mapped subsequently into a near-Earth asteroid model, to understand the availability of material. This estimate shows a substantial amount of resources can be accessible at relatively low energy-cost; on the order of 1014 kg of material could potentially be accessed at an energy cost lower than that required to access the resources in the Moon. Most of this material is currently undiscovered, but the current surveyed population of near-Earth asteroid provides a good starting point for a search for future capture opportunities. The possibility of capturing, i.e., placing the asteroid into an orbit in permanent close proximity to Earth, a small-size NEO or a segment from a larger object would be of great scientific and technological interest in the coming decades. A systematic search of capture candidates among catalogued NEOs is presented, which targets the L2 region as the destination for the captured material. A robust methodology for systematic pruning of candidates and optimisation of capture trajectories through the stable manifold of planar Lyapunov orbits around L2 has been implemented and tested. Five possible candidates for affordable asteroid retrieval missions have been identified among known NEOs, and the transfers to the L2 region calculated. These transfers enable the capture of bodies with 2-8 meters diameter with modest propellant requirements. Because of the optimal departure dates, two of them have been identified as attractive targets for capture missions in the 2020-2030 time frame.