The South china Morning Post is reporting that the Chinese are considering a much more ambitious version of Asteroid Redirect Mission that NASA has proposed. The idea is to find a resource-rich asteroid, attach rockets to it, and then fire it into lunar orbit within the next decade. Eventually, the asteroid would be mined for its resources. However, the Chinese do not anticipate having the technology for large scale space mining for another four decades.

Why is China proposing to grab an asteroid?

Space mining has become the potential industry of the 21st Century.

Once the stuff of science fiction, the idea of mining asteroids for their mineral wealth got the stamp of approval by none other than Goldman Sachs recently. A single asteroid could have trillions of dollars worth of wealth in the form of platinum group metals as well as iron, nickel, and other industrial grade minerals. While some western companies such as Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries envision asteroid mining as a way to feed space based industries and settlements, the Chinese seem to be planning on bringing the mineral wealth back to Earth.

What about the NASA asteroid redirect mission?

The asteroid redirect mission had its origin in a statement by then-President Barack Obama that announced what many thought to be a plan to send astronauts to visit Earth-approaching asteroids in their native orbits.

The plan morphed into the ARM that involved capturing an asteroid, putting it in lunar orbit, and then visiting it with astronauts. The final version of the ARM is to grab a boulder off of a larger asteroid and put it into lunar orbit for a later visit.

The asteroid redirect mission has proven to be controversial, to say the least.

The small body planetary science community cannot figure out a rationale for doing the mission aside from testing some technology and giving astronauts something to do besides going back to the moon and before going to Mars. Nevertheless, neither Congress has formally canceled the project as of yet.

Can the Chinese do this?

It is an open question as to whether the Chinese can move an asteroid large enough to make mining it a profitable venture.

Asteroids of that size have immense mass and tend to tumble as they hurtled through space. A mission that involves moving a rock of that size to the orbit of the moon is likely to make people on Earth very nervous. One mistake and the asteroid could hurtle toward Earth, wiping out human civilization much like a previous asteroid impact wiped out the dinosaurs.