A laser-equipped spacecraft has been designed to go and intercept Apophis, but not as a season-finale cliffhanger mission for the folks at Stargate Command - this Apophis is an Earth-approaching asteroid expected to fly by in 2036. Expected to fly by, but there's a small chance it might decide to drop in for a bit of extinction-generation while it's in the area.
oThe budget model "Foresight" mission would cost $137 million, including a second-hand ICBM rocket motor (rebuilt as a Minuteman IV launch vehicle). This use of ex-nuclear weapons technology to protect the planet also wins the Daily Galaxy "Most pleasingly ironic use of technology" award, by the way. The booster put a two meter satellite on a course to intercept the rogue rock and blast it with laser beams. Unfortunately this isn't a case of a grizzled NASA astronaut/ex-police officer shouting "Intercept THIS!" while punching the button to get all Death Star on Apophis - the beams aren't blasters. They're detectors designed to determine the asteroids exact position and allow us to predict its path, and presumably cancel our dinner plans if necessary.
The Foresight design won SpaceWorks Engineering the Planetary Society prize of $25,000. A nine-figure proposal to claim twenty-plus grand might sound like founding Microsoft in order to get cheap copies of Vista, but the competition and prize are more publicity than practicality. The Planetary society are, understandably, worried about anything that might make them change name ("The Exctinctified Impact Crater society" doesn't sound as good) and ran the competition to raise awareness in the face of NASA's refusal to mount any deflection efforts without more data. The contest attracted design proposals from around the world, raised media attention (as you're proving right now), as well as providing options for NASA to gain the data they seek.
SpaceWorks are currently looking for funding to turn their design into reality. This is a challenge, because while the outcome could affect everyone, until "everyone" gets a common bank account nobody seems keen to foot the bill. This prize and the resulting spotlight could help their efforts; and Foresight might give us the advance warning we need to deal with a very serious problem (after all, hiring Bruce Willis takes time).
Posted by Luke McKinney.
Related Galaxy posts:
Cambridge Astrophysicist Gives Earthlings a 50/50 Chance of Making it Through the Century
Code Yellow: MITs Radical Asteroid Impact Prevention Plan
A Future "K/T" Asteroid Impact -Would the Human Species Survive?
The "Hawking Solution": Will Saving Humanity Require Leaving Earth Behind?
The Apophis Solution -Preventing the Earth's Next Asteroid Impact
Past as Prelude -Asteroids & the Origins of Life
The Final Century -Video Classic
The Shiva Impact & Extinction of the Dinosaurs
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