Scottish scientists have done some prospecting in space, identifying twelve nearby asteroids which could be harnessed and mined for valuable resources.

In a paper published this month in 'Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy', authors D. García Yárnoz, J. P. Sánchez, and C. R. McInnes discuss the 12 asteroids that could be easily mined for valuable resources using existing spacecraft technology. The article, ‘Easily Retrievable Objects Among the NEO Population’ is focused on such near earth objects, which most other researchers only discuss in terms of the threat of destruction they pose. The Scottish authors are interested in grabbing hold of 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. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are of particular interest,” the study says, “because of their accessibility from Earth, but also because of their speculated wealth of material resources.”

The study looks at twelve ‘ERO’ asteroids or ‘Easily Retrievable Objects,’ which the team says can be transported from “heliocentric orbits into the Earth's neighborhood at affordable costs.”

The main challenges are essentially in two parts; how to insert an asteroid into a stable orbit, and then how to safely manoeuvre it for human use.

“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,” the researchers state, “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.”

The new study has been published online.