Following on from plans first announced in early 2013, Nasa have released a video detailing exactly how they plan to “identify, capture and relocate” an asteroid by the year 2025.
The mission has been estimated to cost around $2.6 billion (only slightly more expensive that the cost to place the Curiosity rover on Mars - $2.5bn) and was first outlined following Barack Obama’s budget allocation for the agency for 2014.
"This asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration efforts to achieve the president's goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025,” said Nasa in an official statement.
The mission would involve launching the yet un-built Orion capsule towards the moon, swinging around the satellite to pick speed via a ‘lunar gravity assist’. It would then steer towards a suitable asteroid – probably about seven metres across – and catch the rock in an inflatable bag 10 metres by 15 metres across.
The asteroid would then be relocated to a stable orbit around the moon, with samples taken back to earth for further study. Leaving the asteroid in orbit would mean it could serve as ‘forward base’ of sorts for future space missions (including manned missions to Mars) whilst the mission itself would provide a valuable test of how we might mine asteroids in the future.
In 2012 a plan was announced by a group of billionaire entrepreneurs to mine asteroids for their resources. Founders of the organisation included film director James Cameron and Google’s chiefs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.
The group, named Planetary Resources, recently raised $1.5 million via Kickstarter to launch a telescope to search for near-earth asteroids, but many scientists are sceptical of the mission’s worth, claiming that it is too difficult to accurately predict what quantity of precious metals might be found in space.