Engineers and scientists have drawn up an official plan for the US government in the eventuality that we discover an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
Neither of the two options presented are particularly elegant, but both would hopefully be sufficient in preventing a major impact. If we have enough time, we could send out a fleet of spacecraft to knock it out of orbit. But if we don’t see it coming until the last minute, then it leaves us with few options but to nuke it.
These are the conclusions drawn by researchers in a new study published in the journal Acta Astronautica, in which they reveal a concept spacecraft called Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response (HAMMER) that could protect us from these potentially destructive interlopers. The plans are to be discussed further next month at a conference in Japan.
They are based on NASA’s current spacecraft OSIRIS-REx, which is on its way to have a look at the asteroid Bennu that is roughly on the same orbit as us and will likely rush by sometime in 2135, with a one-in-2,700 chance of hitting us. The researchers estimate that any anti-asteroid craft would likely weigh in at 8 tonnes (8.8 tons) and cost $800 million, something that current funding is nowhere near ready for.