A group created by scientists and research institutes, universities and industrial partners in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, and the USA has been formed and called NEOShield, created for the express purpose of investigating and executing asteroid threat-reduction techniques to avoid the apocalypse. Not necessarily the end of the world, mind you, but the prevention of massively negative events in the face of humankind upon impact of asteroids from space. This commission hasn’t issued any threats thus far, and they’ve not formed because there’s an inordinate amount of asteroids headed for Earth right this second, but they are formed, and they are preparing.
It is Leonard David from Space that lets us in on the commission being formed here, telling the world that it’s NEOs, or near-Earth objects that they’re studying. Not in regards to collecting and saving them for their rock collection, but how they might be destroyed if any too large to be ignored come towards the planet. Alan Harris, senior scientist and NEOShield project leader at the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin-Adlershof, Germany, has the following to say on the subject:
“The scientific side of this will include the analysis of observational data on NEOs and laboratory experiments in which projectiles are fired at asteroid surface analog materials with different compositions, densities, porosities and structures. We need to understand how the momentum transfer from a kinetic impactor to an asteroid depends on the physical characteristics of the asteroid.” – Harris
One of their first big investigatory missions is to check out an asteroid-deflection kinetic impactor project drawn up several years ago and titled Don Quijote. This mission would have a spacecraft head to the path of the asteroid and, without physically contacting it, drag it to an alternate path that does not collide with the planet.
“We’ll be looking in detail at the tricky technical issues associated with autonomous control of a spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of a large, rotating, potato-shaped asteroid, and ion thrusters that may have to function continuously and reliably over a period of 10 years or more.” – Harris
Another approach is much more explosive than using a tractor beam, a “blast deflection” method falling more in the “final desperation” category where no other options are available. This method works like so, according to Harris once again:
“For an asteroid with a diameter of more than half a mile or a warning time of less than five years, the ‘blast-deflection’ method may be the only feasible approach. Our Russian colleagues will be looking in detail at the physics of how an asteroid would respond to a nuclear explosion near, or on, its surface. … [But even then] we’re left with chunks of asteroid — or even a whole one — entering the Earth’s atmosphere and causing damage on the surface. … We do not advocate testing nuclear explosives in space and will not be studying nuclear weapons technology.” – Harris
We’re feeling a bit more safe now that we’re being watch over by asteroid specialists – do you?