An artist's rendering of the TransAstra system that would mine asteroids in space.  Chris Dreyer at the Colorado School of Mines is researching the "optical mining" process that would use concentrated sunlight to break off bits of the asteroid.

Courtesty TransAstra

It may sound crazy, but it just may work, and that's the kind of idea NASA is looking to inspire with its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts grants.  Chris Dreyer of the Colorado School of Mines is doing research on how sunlight can be used to mine asteroids, as part of a NIAC grant given to a team led by TransAstra, a private company.

Here's how it could work, he tells Colorado Matters: A spacecraft pulls alongside an asteroid as it speeds through space, and envelops it with a bag.  A mirror beams concentrated sunlight onto the asteroid's surface, causing it to break apart bit by bit.  Each break releases water vapor that is collected to be refined into rocket fuel.  

Colorado Matters is highlighting three Colorado scientists working on NIAC grants, as NASA hosts its NIAC symposium in Denver this week.  The symposium is free and open to the public.