It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it's a wild possibility scientists are actually exploring: how to put a space station into an asteroid.
Why should we try such a bizarre power of astro engineering? Because the spin of the asteroid would generate enough gravity to allow mining equipment to be used effectively, giving us the opportunity to tap into the rich minerals and deposits in these rocks.
The researchers also suggest that the rocky hull of the asteroid could help protect the mine station from the dangers of space – cosmic radiation and so on.
According to a recent study by astrophysicists of the University of Vienna in Austria, who have applied some advanced gravity models to a hypothetical asteroid measuring 500 x 390 meters, this crazy idea may only be possible.
"Strains caused by centrifugal forces … [make] a space station in the cave of a mined asteroid feasible, "write the researchers, although there are many unknowns – the right dimensions and materials would have to be selected, and the asteroid would have to be strong enough to carry a station.
"Practical applications will depend critically on whether they know not only the composition but also the internal structure of the candidates," adds the team. "Since missions to these asteroids are inevitable for such studies, decisions to colonize such asteroids may only be made after the mining operation has commenced."
While the dimensions of the asteroids used in the scientists' models are roughly in line with some of the space rocks we have already observed, including 3757 Anagolay, 99942 Apophis and 3361 Orpheus, much of the composition of these asteroids is currently unknown.
With that in mind, it's still too early to work on an asteroid mine. Nevertheless, the study, which has not yet been tested by experts, concludes that such a thing may be feasible, perhaps with a metal cylinder to accommodate a habitat and equipment.
"If we find a stable asteroid, we do not need those aluminum walls or anything else, and maybe you can use the entire asteroid as a space station," one of the two astrophysicists, Thomas Maindl, told Leah Crane New scientist,
In the numbers collapsed by Maindl and his colleagues, it was assumed that the asteroid was made of solid rock and that gravity should be 38 percent stronger than it was on Earth to maintain a space station – and to prevent mining equipment from entering space hover.
To reach this level and to keep humans and robotic workers on the rock, the asteroid would have to spin one to three times per minute to generate enough centrifugal force, the researchers calculate.
To realize this, of course, much preliminary work would be necessary. We should know that the asteroid, for example, was not in danger of splitting. If it were stable, then we could hypothesize something from a small outpost to a more expansive space station.
Asteroid mining is a big deal: the interstellar rocks and other objects near Earth are likely to have the resources we need to go deeper into space without relying on the earth for supplies and fuel have to.
If we want to build permanent houses outside of this planet, it makes sense to use what is nearby for the construction and power supply of these facilities. This is where asteroid mining comes into play. This new study offers a possible way to accomplish this more easily.
However, the asteroid must be carefully monitored as it has been mined, just in case its rotation slows or the stone itself threatens to fall apart. Maindl himself admits that we are still far away.
"The line between science and science fiction is somehow blurry here," said Maindl New scientist, "My feeling is that it will take at least 20 years for an asteroid mining to take place, let alone something like that."
The work of the team is available on the pre-print site of arXiv.org.