Catching Asteroids for War and Profit

China has shown plans for moving very small asteroids from Near-Earth Asteroid or NEAs orbits into Earth's orbit.  They claim that their intent is to demonstrate the technology for future mining attempts.  These asteroids have tons of precious minerals and metals that could be possibly be mined and transported to the Earth for use in industry. It has also been noted that any smelting operations could be conducted in space thus negating any pollution and also reducing the amount of unwanted material that need be transported to Earth.  These materials could also be used for construction of objects in space and on the moon.  This ability would decrease the cost of launching objects into space and make large scale space operations more practical.  Unfortunately, moving around Asteroids into or near Earth’s orbit could wipe out all life on Earth if the Asteroid is large enough and impacts the Earth.
Mining Asteroids has the potential for vast financial gain.  An Asteroid 1 mile in diameter has been estimated to contain approximately $20 Trillion in industrial and precious metals including Gold, Platinum, Iron, Nickel, Manganese, Palladium, Cobalt, Molybdenum, Osmium, Rhenium, Rhodium, and Ruthenium.  Last year the Japanese  Hayabusa Asteroid probe returned samples that confirmed mineral presence of Magnesium, Iron, Silicon, Calcium, Nickel, Sodium, Aluminum, Titanium, Vanadium, Manganese, Chromium and Oxygen in the form of Pyroxene and Olivine (Peridot).  When these minerals are processed, they hold the ability to create a huge amount of products needed on Earth and in space.  Since Global estimates of mineral production have shown that reserves of Gold, Silver, Lead, Zinc, Copper, and Tin could be exhausted within 50-60 years these Asteroids may be necessary to continue the economic prosperity of all humanity.
Construction in space has mostly been confined to the International Space Station, though attempts at re-fueling spacecraft in space has also shown that complex processes can be carried out in space.  Yet the ISS has parts that were manufactured on Earth and transported into orbit.  To even think about mining, smelting, manufacture and assembly of structures and machines in space would take decades of research and testing.  Yet, with today’s cheapest launch prices near or above $2,000 per pound to low earth orbit and $10,000 per pound to geosynchronous orbit developing space based manufacturing would surely lower costs in the long run assuming mankind continues exploration and colonization of space. 

Asteroids possibly have far more potential as weapons of mass destruction than agents of prosperity.  It’s thought that an Asteroid large enough to be used as a weapon could be maneuvered into an attack trajectory by nations such as the US, Russia, and ESA and soon China, India, and Japan will also possess this ability.  The exact size of the Asteroid would vary depending on the composition and velocity of the object.  Obviously they would have to be chosen carefully as to cause local damage and not a global catastrophe.
  There are certain benefits of using this type of attack system.  It would be almost impossible to determine who re-directed the Asteroid to the target.  Asteroid impacts could cause many Megatons worth of damage, yet there wouldn’t be the radioactive debris and fallout caused by a fusion or fission atomic weapon.  It’s thought that a 30ft to 150ft wide Asteroid could cause damage on the scale of 20 kilotons like the Hiroshina bomb, and Asteroids 300ft or more could cause multi-Megaton explosions akin to today’s atomic fusion bombs.  Incidentally, the size of the Asteroid that China is going to move is 30ft across. The Earth Impact Effects Program has a neat calculator for Asteroid impacts Here.   Another technique for deploying a an Asteroid as a weapon would be to find a larger Asteroid and fragment it into many smaller pieces as Asteroid Shoemaker-Levy 9 did to Jupiter in 1994.  This could cause a chain of impacts as seen on Jupiter's moon Ganymede.  We have to be careful dealing with Asteroids because while they hold so much potential for creation and prosperity they also hold the key to our destruction.  Some would have us wait until better technology is available so no mistakes are made, while others would have us jump into developing Asteroids as mining platforms to advance the technology needed to supply Earth and it’s space programs in the near future.  Whether targeted by man or nature these Asteroids have the capability of ending life as we know it on Earth so caution must be used when handling these objects and money spent to detect these objects.  Yet, if we do nothing we may never gain the knowledge and experience needed to Deflect incoming Asteroids if we suddenly discover a rogue Asteroid headed for certain impact. 

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