Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Killer Asteroids from Asteroid Mining

Many great developments and goods will come from space industries such as asteroid mining. But with every new technology or capability comes the potential misuse and weaponization of those capabilities. It is imperative that such dangerous possibilities are addressed before errors occur.

In recent years there has been a great deal of hype about preparing for a possible collision with a stray killer space rock. People are scared that what happened to the dinosaurs may be repeated. The trouble is that while the world has been working to create ways to deflect these rocks which might hit us, others have been working to bring them right to us.

Asteroid mining is going to be a reality. Telescopes are already mapping potential candidates and companies and NASA are creating hardware to retrieve them. The reason space rocks will have to be returned to a close proximity to Earth (most plans intend to have the rocks delivered to Lunar orbit) is so they can be mined easily. Why drive a truck to a mine over and over when you can just bring the mine to the factory?

The meteorite which was supposed to have killed the dinosaurs was believed to be several miles in diameter. Now there are no plans by anyone to return a rock that big, now or in the near future, though it will undoubtedly occur someday. But a rock only 20 meters in diameter can have more strength than a nuclear bomb, as witnessed with the Chelyabinsk meteor.

All it takes to move an asteroid is a little bit of power and time. The intentions, when these
asteroids are being brought toward Earth is science and mining. However, what protections and countermeasures will be in place when the ship moving the asteroid is hacked and put on a collision course with Earth? What if the ship just loses control while carrying what is essentially a nuclear payload, if allowed to fall to Earth?

The key to stopping an asteroid impact is knowing that it is coming ahead of time. What will be the lead time when an asteroid, supposedly under control, breaks free of the leash? A pedestrian can jump only if they know the car won't hit the breaks, but we all know that a car is supposed to stop at a crosswalk so we don't look for it. We may be looking for the stray rock but it might be the one everyone knows about that gets us.

Preparations for defending Earth from space hazards must be pursued and considered. Natural events need to be prepared for, but so far humans haven't had to fear nature so much as other humans, when searching for a source of annihilation. Asteroid mining creates a plane with nuclear bombs which could be hijacked by terrorists.

Many solutions already exist to prepare for the event of a rock getting off the leash. Fortunately, large countermeasures are not something which have to be implemented for sometime. Conventional weapons are allowed in orbit, and these could destroy small asteroids coming toward Earth. Proper security protocols will inhibit most hacking, but cyber-security is a perpetual arms race. A very simple solution would be to have a certain location far away from the Earth where asteroids could be delivered and broken up into smaller pieces for Earth delivery. If a rock doesn't remain in that area it is immediately counted as a rogue and destroyed. The trouble is this solution creates a great inhibition to asteroid mining companies which need the asteroids as close to Earth as possible to allow proximity to mining technology.

Asteroid mining is going to happen. Asteroids will be brought to Lunar and even Earth orbit. Generally there will be no dangers with these practices. But the possibility will exist of having one of those rocks getting loose or being loosed and falling toward Earth. Countermeasures must be created for this event. It is far more likely than some killer asteroid appearing out of the darkness.

For methods of deflecting asteroids read this article.

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