A composite image of Mars and its two moons, Phobos (foreground) and Deimos (background).
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

 

Mining asteroids in the future would benefit from using Mars orbit as a base from which to access Main Belt Asteroids (MBAs) – asteroids that orbit between Mars and Jupiter.

As a result, a growing economy that utilizes space resources or large scale exploration missions will likely find Mars orbit convenient.

The stable platform and modest gravity afforded by Phobos – one of two moons of the Red Planet — would make it a natural first choice. “Once Mars orbit has a profitable economy, with high value trans-shipments, the Martian surface may also become an economically valuable outpost. This value may then stimulate settlement.”

That’s the view of the Center for Astrophysics (CfA)|Harvard & Smithsonian astronomers Martin Elvis, Jonathan McDowell, and past Harvard undergraduate Anthony Taylor.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover used its Mastcam-Z camera system to shoot video of Phobos. This is still from that video.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/SSI

A walk in the PARC

The trio developed PARC, short for Python Asteroid Rendezvous Code. This problem solving code culls out maneuver schemes to rendezvous with any known asteroid from either Earth or Mars orbit given a specified launch date and time of flight.

PARC was used to investigate whether Phobos-like orbits around Mars at altitudes of roughly 5,592 miles (9,000 ​kilometers) are more energetically favorable and useful locations from which to dispatch missions to MBAs. Phobos orbits about six thousand kilometers from the surface of Mars.

The results show potentially very significant reductions to the costs of exploration. Known MBAs are much larger than near-Earth objects (NEOs), so the total mass that is accessible is larger by roughly 10,000 times the accessible mass in NEOs.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Convenient and advantageous

The upshot of their investigation is that hundreds of thousands of MBAs are available for in-space mining purposes.

Whether or not a mission ultimately makes financial sense, the CfA statement adds, “depends on many other factors, but the authors demonstrate that the concept of a launching and then returning to an operations center based in a Phobos-like orbit, or even on Phobos itself, is relatively convenient and advantageous.”

They add that profitable large-scale mining from Martian orbit could also lead to routine access to the Martian surface.”

To access the paper – “Phobos and Mars orbit as a base for asteroid exploration and mining” – go to:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0032063322000368

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