Many space visionaries want to mine asteroids. But drilling in microgravity is hard, because exerting force on an asteroid will push you away from it.
That’s what an inspired a far-out idea from scientists from University of Vienna: turning an asteroid into a space station and mining it from the inside out, according to New Scientist.
The best type of asteroid to build a space station inside would be made of solid rock and rotating several times per minute, according the Viennese scientists’ research, which was published in the preprint server ArXiv in December. The idea is that it would provide enough centrifugal force to let space miners chisel away at the asteroid from the center outward.
“If we find an asteroid that’s stable enough, we might not need these aluminium walls or anything, you might just be able to use the entire asteroid as a space station,” Thomas Maindl, one of the scientists who worked on the research, told New Scientist.
Questions remain. Would digging a tunnel to place station inside an asteroid weaken it to the point that the spinning space rock rips itself apart? Would it stop spinning altogether as miners probe and dig? And if it’s so hard to drill into an asteroid from the outside, wouldn’t hollowing it out in the first place pose the same problems?
“The border between science and science fiction here is sort of blurry,” Maindl told New Scientist. “My gut feeling is that it will be at least 20 years before any asteroid mining happens, let alone something like this.”
READ MORE: Here’s how we could turn an asteroid into a space station [New Scientist]
More on asteroid landings: Here are the First Photos Japan’s Robot Landers Sent Back From an Asteroid