Three astrophysicists from the University of Vienna, Austria, studied the feasibility of installing a space station in a mine or natural cavity of an asteroid, and their results show that this is possible if certain conditions are respected. This station would be useful to a small colony of humans sent to mine and prospect an asteroid.
As on Earth, the mines that will be exploited on asteroids will one day be decommissioned. Rather than abandoning them, an Austrian team was interested in the idea of installing a space station inside one of these cavities. The main argument that pushes these researchers to want to settle inside an asteroid is that the rock faces of the asteroid could protect the station and its occupants.
The idea is to choose the right asteroid in terms of composition, internal structure, size (at least 500 by 390 meters) and speed of rotation. Indeed, these scientists from the University of Vienna ensure that the rotation of the asteroid, at “good speed”, could create sufficient gravity to maintain healthy occupants and make possible activities. It must be known that a gravity of at least 38% of that of the Earth is one of the most important prerequisites for a human body to remain in good health.
These researchers took, for example, the case of an asteroid whose dimensions are 500m x 390m. If it is rotated between one and three revolutions per minute, then this centrifugal force will create an artificial gravity. Some asteroids meeting these criteria and close to the Earth have already been identified. These are, for example, 3757 Anagolay, 99942 Apophis , 3361 Orpheus, 308635 (2005 YU55) and 419624 (2016 SO16).
The mining potential of asteroids
Although similar to science fiction, this study is quite serious. The three authors put it online on the arXiv archive of electronic pre-publications of scientific articles.
Today, there is little doubt that in the next few decades, asteroids will be mined and exploited, particularly because they are full of rare earth and valuable minerals that are essential for many industries. A single asteroid can hold more resources than the amount of that same resource extracted annually on Earth. It should be known that NASA estimates that the objects of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter contain resources equivalent to 700 trillion dollars.