Harvesting Near Earth Asteroid Resources Using Solar Sail Technology

McInnes, C. (2017) Harvesting Near Earth Asteroid Resources Using Solar Sail Technology. In: Fourth International Symposium on Solar Sailing (ISSS 2017), Kyoto, Japan, 17-20 Jan 2017,

135798.pdf - Accepted Version



Near Earth asteroids represent a wealth of material resources to support future space ventures. These resources include water from C-type asteroids for crew logistic support; liquid propellants electrolytically cracked from water to fuel crewed vehicles and commercial platforms; and metals from M-type asteroids to support in-situ manufacturing. In this paper the role of solar sail technology will be investigated to support the future harvesting of near Earth asteroid resources. This will include surveying candidate asteroids though in-situ sensing, efficiently processing asteroid material resources and returning such resources to near-Earth space. While solar sailing can be used directly as a low cost means of transportation to and from near Earth asteroids, solar sail technology itself offers a number of dual-use applications. For example, solar sails can in principle be used as solar concentrators to sublimate material. If a metal-rich M-type asteroid is processed through solar heating, then the flow of metal resources made available could be manufactured into further reflective area. The additional thermal power generated would then accelerate the manufacturing process. Such a strategy could enable rapid in-situ processing of asteroid resources with exponential scaling laws. It is proposed that solar sailing therefore represents a key technology for harvesting near Earth asteroids, using sunlight both as heat for asteroid processing and radiation pressure for resource transportation.

Item Type:Conference Proceedings
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:McInnes, Professor Colin
Authors: McInnes, C.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering > Systems Power and Energy
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 The Author
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with the permission of the Author
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