Spacecraft could nuke dangerous asteroid to defend Earth

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The next time that a dangerous asteroid lines of the Earth in the visor, we can be ready for the threat.

Scientists and technicians of the U.S. government have drawn up plans for a spacecraft that could knock large, incoming space rocks off course via blunt force impact or blow them to bits with a nuclear warhead, BuzzFeed News reported.

The researchers announced the concept of the vehicle, also known as the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response (HAMMER), in a study in the February issue of the journal Acta Astronautica. And the team discuss the HAMMER on an asteroid-research conference in May, according to BuzzFeed News. [Potentially Dangerous Asteroids (Images)]

Each HAMMER spacecraft would weigh about 8.8 tons (8 tonnes). If an asteroid threat is detected early enough, a fleet of vehicles can be shipped to collide, nuke-free, with the space rock, the change of the orbit enough to save the Earth from impact.

But this strategy would not work for large asteroids from the cosmic gloom with little warning; there would not be enough time for the push in the back. To neutralize, or at least mitigate, such as threats, a HAMMER should be equipped with a nuke, the study team stressed.

“If practical, the kinetic impactor is the best approach, but several factors, such as the large uncertainties or short available response time, reducing the kinetic impactor the suitability and, ultimately, the elimination of its sufficiency,” the researchers wrote in the Acta Astronautica paper. The research is part of a broader study by NASA and the National Nuclear Security Agency to better understand humanity options when presented with a potentially threatening near-Earth object (NEO).

To arrive at these results refine HAMMER design, the team modeled how to deal with a potential real-life scenario: What if the 1,640 feet feet wide (500-meter) near-Earth asteroid Bennu was heading right for our planet? There is a 1-in-2,700 chance that this will indeed happen, on Sept. 21, 2135, BuzzFeed News reported.

“Bennu was selected for our case study in part because it is the best-studied of the known NEOs,” the researchers wrote. “It is also the destination of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return mission, which, at the time of this writing, en route to Bennu, after a September 2016 start.”

OSIRIS-REx — whose name is short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer — is scheduled to arrive at Bennu this summer. The spacecraft will study the asteroid out of a job for two years, then the blow in the form of a sample, which will return to Earth in a special container in September 2023, if all goes according to plan.

OSIRIS-REx is a $800 million mission. It is unclear how much a HAMMER spacecraft would cost, if one ever gets built (that is certainly no guarantee, having regard to the fact that it is a concept car at this stage). The study team declined to estimate a price, BuzzFeed News reported.

You can see the full BuzzFeed story here:

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