Suppose there are two asteroids, one very large (larger than a football field) and one very small (roughly the size of a refrigerator). Assume they have similar compositions and are at equal distances from my current location. My hypothetical goal is to begin collecting these smaller, "refrigerator-sized" chunks of material -- by any means -- and use them for some purpose that is unrelated to the question.
Would I be better off going to the large asteroid and setting up a mining operation, or locating and collecting the asteroid that is already the size I'm interested in? What if instead of a single chunk, I began identifying, locating, and retrieving smaller asteroids that are already near the size I am interested in? Would the effort I am putting out depend on the asteroid's composition, and would the hypothetical mining operation cost less effort over time as compared to hunting down the appropriate chunks?
Some more specific parameters:
- For the first part of the question, assume I've identified the first two asteroids in different parts of the asteroid belt, but they're approximately the same distance from my location. Let's call it 1 AU.
- I would like to return any contents to an arbitrary point in open space, not under great influence of any nearby bodies. The vehicle carrying the payload should be capable of either coming to a stop at this location, or slowing enough for another, larger device to capture it. I'm not so much concerned about the details of this procedure for the question, more the actual retrieval of the material instead of the delivery.
- Primary candidates for retrieval would be M-type asteroids. They are desirable for identification and retrieval due to their moderate brightness and metal content.