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Courtesy ESA

Picture Info

The moments before impact... The Impactor spacecraft (Hidalgo) heads towards the target asteroid. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab

Source article

BBC News

Published By

Dr. Dick van der Wateren


Space Sciences, Impacts, Near Earth Objects, Asteroids, Job announcement, hazard mitigation

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Push, pull or blast? How to protect Earth from asteroids?

21.01.2012, Age: 3566 days

A new international initiative led by the German space agency DLR, NEOShield, combines expertise from science as well as the industry to avert the dangers of impact by asteroids and comets. Last week was the kick-off meeting in Berlin attended by experts from Europe, USA and Russia.

NEO's, or Near Earth Objects, have impacted the Earth numerous times throughout its history, with often dramatic consequences (think KT mass extinction). Several options have been proposed so far to move NEO's away from a collision course, or even destroy them alltogether. In the next three years, NEOShield will review possible mitigation strategies and report their findings to gouvernments of the partnering countries.

NEO's several metres in diametre hit Earth every year without causing much damage. Objects several hundreds of metres across bring serious local damage approximately every 2000 years, while global catastrophes caused by kilometre-size objects occur every few million years. Around 90% of these really big ones have been identified and their trajectories have been accurately mapped. None of them appears to pose an immediate threat.

The NEOShield initiative focuses on the next category, the nearly 20,000 objects in the 100-1000 metre range. In 2005, the European Space Agency, ESA, designed the Don Quijote mission, a pilot project targeted at a non-threatening NEO. It is designed to demonstrate and validate the technology of kicking objects out of a collision course with the Earth. It could one day be used to deflect an asteroid threatening the Earth.

Gravity tractors, as an alternative to impacting asteroids, have been proposed in 2008 by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A gravity tractor (GT) is a spacecraft that deflects another object in space, typically a potentially hazardous asteroid that might impact Earth, without physically contacting it, using only its gravitational field to transmit the required impulse (Source: Wikipedia).

Another option, blasting a threatening NEO out of its collision course with a nuclear explosion, has been hotly debated. Whether it is a really feasible solution remains to be seen.

The NEOShield project - A Global Approach to Near-Earth Object Impact Threat Mitigation - is funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). "The primary aim of the project, NEOShield, is to investigate in detail the three most promising mitigation techniques: the kinetic impactor, blast deflection, and the gravity tractor, and devise feasible demonstration missions. Furthermore, [NEOShield] will investigate options for an international strategy for implementation when an actual impact threat arises." (From: NEOShield mission statement.)


The German space agency, DLR, offers a postdoc position in the NEOShield project. Follow link>>

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