Asteroid Cruithne, quasi-satellite of Earth

Asteroid
Cruithne with serial number 3753 has attracted a lot of attention of
scientists recently. The asteroid moves around the sun in orbit similar
to that of the Earth, and is located at a more or less same distance
from the Earth throughout the year, which makes it a so-called
quasi-satellite of our planet. What does it mean for us?
Cruithne's diameter is
five kilometers, and its weight is 130 billion tons. The asteroid cannot
come closer to the Earth than 12 million kilometers, making this
"neighbor status" perfectly safe for us. However, it may be of some
interest.

First, as in the case with many other asteroids,
unlike most planets, it is assumed that Cruithne's composition has not
changed much since the days of the solar system. Therefore, examining
it, scientists can get a better idea about the origin and evolution of
our solar system. Second, the presence of rare metals on the asteroid
that can be used for practical purposes is quite likely.


Early last year, a
co-owner of the company Space Adventures and a member of the supervisory
board of the Civil NASA Richard Garriott said that many asteroids that
may contain valuable materials are located in the immediate vicinity of
the Earth. The current level of technology allows the identification of
these minerals and ores, after which it will be possible to organize an
expedition to deliver them to Earth.

However, getting to
Cruithne is not that simple. This celestial body has a complex orbit,
and getting there by using gravity maneuvers is nearly impossible. A
rocket will require too much fuel, and this project would not be
profitable.

An engineer Pierpaolo Pergola from the University
of Pisa (Italy) proposed an economical way of travelling to Cruithne. He
thinks that a spacecraft aimed at the asteroid could be accelerated
using ion engines powered by solar batteries. Pergolas estimated that
two research nanoplatforms could be used as the payload, for example,
two "double" CubeSat with dimensions 20 × 10 × 10 cm that at the end of
the path will be deployed near the asteroid for its detailed study.
In recent years, these
"cubes" have been widely used in the earth orbit. Various types of
equipment were placed on them before, including miniature
accelerometers, mass spectrometers, as well as particle detectors. It is
assumed that the main unit will play the role of a transmitter of
information from relatively low-power transmitters CubeSat, as well as
anti-radiation shield, protecting the electronic nanoplatforms from
cosmic rays outside Van Allen radiation belt.

According to the
scientist, It is particularly important that lack of chemical
accelerators, as well as the presence of ion engines will allow
abandoning the typical traditional gravity and moving towards the
asteroid in a straight line, and consequently, freely choosing the day
and time of launch.

Pergola says that the total weight of the
unit does not exceed 100 pounds and it will be able to reach Cruithne in
320 days. As soon as the information on the composition of the asteroid
is available, it will become clear how high its potential value is, and
whether it should be developed in terms of extracting the planet's
resources and organizing a manned mission to the asteroid.






Incidentally, recently
NASA experiencing problems with the financing of their projects, made a
plan of landing on a near-Earth celestial body. There is one limitation:
the diameter of the body must not exceed ten meters. However, even the
linear dimensions of the ship with astronauts will exceed the dimensions
of such body. It would be more interesting to land on a five-kilometer
long asteroid that not only would look much more significant than
landing on a "mini-object", but would also allow to speak with
confidence about the new breakthrough in manned space flights.
Meanwhile, despite
Pergola's tempting proposition, so far this project exists only on the
level of calculations. Given that these days every company, including
space agencies, is obsessed with savings, none of them have yet
expressed their interest in this mission. It must be admitted that the
project looks very practical and economical, and its scientific value
can be significant.

Irina Shlionskaya