Perhaps the proposal to blow up an inbound asteroid using a nuke isn’t so bizarre after all. Researchers and agencies all over the world have spent years developing concepts for redirecting or destroying any asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, and at one point we heard mention of nuclear-based destruction. While the idea was mostly dismissed at the time, a new report claims that NASA has worked with experts to develop a new spacecraft with nuclear abilities.
According to BuzzFeed, NASA has been working with a pair of Department of Energy weapons labs and the National Nuclear Security Administration to developer HAMMER: the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Energy Response spacecraft. The spacecraft is designed to deal with two different potential asteroid scenarios — a small one, which can potentially be deflected, or a big one, which may be redirected using a “nuclear device.”
The work has reportedly been done in anticipation of a future asteroid encounter, one not scheduled to happen until September 2135. At that time, a large asteroid named Bennu is expected to whizz by Earth so closely that it has a 1 in 2700 chance of hitting our planet. Should such a collision actually happen, the effects would be devastating.
Fortunately humanity has more than one hundred years to figure out a solution to the possible problem, and that solution may involve using an impactor on the HAMMER spacecraft to deflect the asteroid, changing its path to one that doesn’t include Earth.
If the asteroid is too large, though, the impactor solution may not work, which is where the “nuclear option” comes in. Using that, scientists could “change the speed of the body in a hurry,” according to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory physicist David Dearborn speaking to BuzzFeed. The existence of such a design, though, doesn’t mean NASA will proceed to build HAMMER. Such a project would no doubt be very expensive, though cost estimates weren’t provided.
NASA JPL continues to monitor for potential Earth impacts.