We Earth people have opportunities to make a large space station in high orbit around our planet. Below is the plan, but first the problems. A large high orbit station can’t be built using our current technology of rockets because that requires too much energy to lift the needed material that high. Even the Space Station, which is in an orbit barely keeping it out of severe drag from the atmosphere, is so expensive to reach even the United States is no longer supplying it with needed consumables. The US presently is reliant upon the Russian rockets to take care of “our” Space Station. I mention this as a proof of the enormous expense of even maintaining a low orbit station. A high orbit station, one out where our synchronous 24 hour orbit communication satellites reside, would be much more expensive. If we have trouble paying for a low earth satellite’s maintenance, it would appear that building and maintaining a high orbit station would be too expensive. And to make a very large high orbit station would be totally outside of economic feasibility.
One answer to the problem is to manufacture the high earth orbiting satellite out of materials already there. That would require capturing a small asteroid, or hauling material from the Moon. Both of these are expensive if rocket power is used for the energy source for getting the mass to the desired orbit. These would be raw materials and would require manufacturing in space into usable items. These materials would probably be limited to the shell and superstructure of the station, and perhaps gases derived from volatiles derived from the base minerals. It would still be necessary to haul up the people and high tech items necessary to make the station worthwhile.
There is a way around these problems using an Earth grazing asteroid. The kinetic energy of the asteroid could be used to lift huge weights of the high tech part of the space station into high orbit, and also the massive amounts of low-tech building materials, machinery, human consumable items and rocket fuels. All of these could be lifted into space with the kinetic energy in a single pass of a grazing asteroid. The energy is clearly available, and it becomes a technical problem of transferring some of that energy to objects on or near the surface of the Earth. The asteroid would graze the Earth at about 80,000 to 160,000 feet altitude and drop a weighted and guided hook, which could be swung and timed to be motionless for a moment at some point in the atmosphere. At that moment a connection could be made to a line at that same point. The line could be held there by a balloon, or rocketed to that point, or perhaps flown there by an airplane. The down line could be quite strong and thick because it would be only a few tens of thousands of feet long. The item being lifted could be on the airplane, or the entire airplane itself, or perhaps the largest items could be lifted by a line going all the way to the ground and held in place for the connection by the airplane or a balloon. Perhaps the method using the least amount of energy would be to lift a rocket carrying a quantity of coiled line on a large balloon to 100,000+ feet altitude. This rocket, when fired, would release and uncoil the line as it ascends toward the asteroid. This would minimize the amount of line and other apparatus that had to be previously sent to the asteroid. A second balloon and others in series, as needed, could hold a lower portion of the line in place which reached from the surface up to the top balloon, where it attached to the line on the rocket.
There could be many of these drop lines situated along the route, and thus many loads could be lifted at once. If the asteroid were spinning, the lines could be made to drop vertically for the last of their downward movement, and when the loads were lifted into space the spinning would separate and stabilize the loads and provide some artificial gravity. Also, when one of these packages was released from the asteroid it would depart from it in a predictable way.
The asteroid would continue on its natural trajectory on past the Earth and wouldn’t, at this time, be in Earth orbit. As it reached some high, but departing from Earth trajectory, some large high tech space station parts just lifted could be released and only these parts slowed by rockets and placed into a high orbit. Other equipment could be released later for trans-solar projects, and some could stay with the asteroid and mine it for the manufacture of basic materials like sheet metal for later construction projects.
To accomplish this requires finding an asteroid that could be guided to an Earth grazing path. It requires a technology and equipment to guide the asteroid to the right place. It requires political cooperation, perhaps beyond that available, to graze the Earth at high speed. It requires a line long enough and strong enough to lift the loads safely. It requires connecting the line to another object here on Earth. Assuming all of these could be done, it still requires a lot of money to do the work building the system. But the energy to lift the objects into high orbit is available.
On February 15, an asteroid named 2012 DA 14 will pass close to Earth. If this asteroid could have been nudged in just the right way a few years ago, and again a month ago, it could have been made to graze the Earth and lift huge amounts of matter into space. At present humans propelled by chemical rockets are visitors in space.
With asteroid launching of unlimited mass of materials, humans could become residents in space.
[Update:2013/02/16/ ---- A perfect asteroid opportunity missed. 2013/02/15 09:26 There will be more.]