IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON PLASMA SCIENCE, VOL. 45, NO. 7, JULY 2017 1327 Asteroid Mining and Deflection Using Electromagnetic Launchers Thomas G. Engel, Senior Member, IEEE , and Mark A. Prelas, Member, IEEE Abstract —This investigation shows that the electromagnetic launcher (EML) can be used for asteroid mining and deflection applications. The EMLs considered for these applications include the railgun and the reversible helical EML (R-HEML). The R-HEML has been demonstrated at the University of Missouri Center for Energy Conversion and Electromechanics and is currently being used as an industrial shock and vibration tester. The reversibility of the R-HEML along with its shuttle- armature makes it ideal for the applications proposed here. The R-HEML’s shuttle-armature is fitted with a bucket and filled with asteroid material and launched from the asteroid surface at high velocity. The bucket is reloaded and the process repeated. The steady ejection of asteroid material can also be used a source of thrust to change an asteroid’s Earth-crossing trajectory if needed. Estimates show that the EML “thruster” can deflect small to medium-sized asteroids with only minimal warning using 100 kW–1 MW electrical power. Larger asteroids can be deflected with similar warning times using a higher power 10-MW electrical supply. The analysis further shows that the EML thruster can be used to profitably mine the asteroid for valuable resources needed on Earth. A nuclear reactor- based supply is chosen as the primary power source for these EML-based applications because of its high power density and ruggedness. The operating parameters of the R-HEML and railgun launchers needed for a 1-MW EML thruster used as an asteroid mining and deflection system are given and discussed. Index Terms —Coilguns, electromagneticlaunching, nuclear power generation, pulsed power systems, railgun, space vehicles. I. I NTRODUCTION T HE first suggested use of high-velocity linear motors, better known as electromagnetic launchers (EMLs), to launch objects in space appears to have been explained by O’Neill in his 1977 book . O’Neill envisioned the EML launching mined material from the moon’s surface. His vision is akin to that conceived much earlier by Jules Verne in the classic tale “From the Earth to the Moon” that used a conventional cannon to launch a human crew to the moon. More recently, proposals to launch objects from Earth into orbit appeared as EML technology demonstrated high velocity operation . EML technology has sufficiently advanced to the point that some space applications are easily within the realm of Manuscript received January 1, 2017; accepted May 13, 2017. Date of pub- lication May 25, 2017; date of current version July 7, 2017. (Corresponding author: Thomas G. Engel.) T. G. Engel is with the Center for Energy Conversion and Electromechanics, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 80523 USA (e-mail: [email protected]).
- Spring '17
- asteroid mining