A Solar-Powered Near Earth Object Resource Extractor
Komerath, Narayanan Menon
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This paper is an offshoot of a project to study means of forming massive radiationshielded structures using Near Earth Object (NEO) materials. The topic is the conceptual design of a solar-powered robotic craft to land on, attach to, and extract materials from, a typical NEO. A solar-powered trajectory to a candidate NEO is used to estimate requirements. A reconfigurable solar sail / collector is the primary propulsion and power source for the craft. Following a journey of nearly 5 years, the craft will use a unique pulsed plasmajet torque-hammer concept to attach to the NEO. The basic cutting tool element is a solar-powered Neodymium fiber laser beam sheathed in a plasma jet, expanded through a truncated aerospike nozzle. Two telescoping, rotating arms carrying a total of 60 such nozzles at the ends of "fingers" enable the craft to dig and "float" out NEO material at a rate adequate to build a 50m diameter, 50m-long, 2m thick, walled cylinder within 19 days. The system is also amenable to applications requiring excavation of a large mass of near-surface material for resource processing. The present design appears to close with a total payload to LEO of 37,500 kg, with a total mass of 30,000 kg including the sail/collector at earth escape. The primary consumables on the system are the plasma gas for cutting and maneuvering, and electrodes of the plasma cutters.