London: Scientists have identified 12 easily retrievable asteroids among the population of near earth objects (NEOs) that can be mined for valuable resources using existing spacecraft technology.
The study by researchers from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow focuses on near earth objects, about which other researchers tend to discuss in terms of the threats these pose in destruction.
Researchers, however, are concerned about being able to harness the positive benefits if the objects can be successfully exploited.
Asteroids and comets are of strategic importance for science in an effort to understand the formation, evolution and composition of the Solar System, researchers said.
"Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are of particular interest because of their accessibility from Earth, but also because of their speculated wealth of material resources," they said.
While they are not the first team to talk about how NEO resources may be exploited, the authors are pointing out that, out of these NEOs, they can identify a family of EROs Easily Retrievable Objects.
These EROs can be transported from "heliocentric orbits into the Earth`s neighbourhood at affordable costs."
The problem to transfer an asteroid to an Earth or Moon centred orbit can be decoupled into the initial phase of inserting the asteroid into a stable invariant manifold, they said, and then provide the manoeuvres required to continue the transit into the Earth system.
The team searched through a database of about 9,000 NEOs for candidates and they found 12 that could be retrieved by changing velocity by less than 500 meters per second.
They said that the approach they would use for retrieval may also serve as a robust search and ranking methodology for future retrieval candidates that can be automatically applied to the growing survey of NEOs.
"The possibility of capturing a small NEO or a segment from a larger object would be of great scientific and technological interest in the coming decades," they said.
"It is a logical stepping stone towards more ambitious scenarios of asteroid exploration and exploitation, and possibly the easiest feasible attempt for humans to modify the Solar System environment," said researchers.
The study was published in the journal Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy.