In a move that will rob movie studios of all credibility… NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has announced that they have developed a method for diverting asteroids that are on target for a head on collision with earth. The answer: nuclear warheads.
Planned to be launched on the newest generation of launch vehicles – the “Ares V cargo launch vehicle” – the 8.9m (29ft)-long cradle like craft would be capable of carrying six nuclear warheads. The 1.2MT B83 warheads would be delivered via a missile-like interceptor vehicle, and delivering a maximum 1.2 megaton detonation.
Near-Earth Objects (NEO) have long been a dilemma for scientists, especially since the discovery of 99942 Apophis in 2004. Apophis was first believed to be heading directly towards earth, and created a bit of a stir when people realized that it could hit earth in 2029. However since then, and due to several recalculations and lucky happenstances, the asteroid has only a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting earth.
Nevertheless, Apophis will be the test subject for NASA’s asteroid interceptor, as it is the closest thing earth has to a NEO threatening earth. But before the mission can go ahead to deflect the asteroid further, NASA will be sending a discovery probe to ascertain exactly what the composition of the asteroid is made of.
With the information sent back from such a mission, NASA would be able to determine just what method of deflection they would use, given three clear choices. The asteroid interceptor vehicle is not solely reliant on nuclear warheads, but also a ballistic bullet style missile and a solar collector. The latter would be able to focus solar energy on to the surface of the NEO and create thrust and deflection through the evaporation of the surface material.
With the “Hollywood” belief that all one must do is smash up the asteroid like you would a clod of dirt, comes a natural misunderstanding. Deflection has to be the primary option until an explosive detonation can promise to eliminate all but the tiniest of particle debris. Anything larger could enter Earth’s atmosphere and do possible damage.
The mission’s are set to lead up to an encounter between Apophis and NASA’s interceptor sometime before 2029, estimated at around 2020/21. This will allow for deflection up to two years prior, and even larger NEO’s can be deflected up to five years prior.
Posted by Josh Hill
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