[astroCS] 'Ready to tackle Armageddon'

Marek Husarik mhusarik at ta3.sk
Mon Aug 12 18:32:34 UTC 2002

A space mission to knock a potential rogue asteroid off course is
undergoing feasibility studies with money from the European Space Agency

               A Spanish company,
               Deimos-Space, is
               designing the mission
               and hopes its plans will
               convince Esa to give the
               go-ahead for a full scale
               test on a real asteroid.

               The company has come up with a plan, which it
               calls the Don Quixote mission, to launch a pair
               of probe spacecraft called Hidalgo and Sancho
               at a far off asteroid.

               One would hit the asteroid at extremely high
               speed, deflecting it slightly from its orbit.

               The other would observe the asteroid and make
               highly accurate measurements of what
               happened to it after the impact.

               Asteroid billiards

               The idea is that the mission would tell scientists
               how hard they would have to hit a real rogue
               asteroid heading for Earth in order to deflect it

               Deimos plans to finish its study early in 2003
               and hopes Esa will then come up with the cash
               for the actual mission.

               The company is optimistic.

               "We believe that the outcome of this mission
               would be good science," Deimos-Space's
               Jose-Antonio Gonzalez told BBC News Online.

               "And we are trying to demonstrate the feasibility
               of the mission, not only in terms of astrodynamic
               calculations or technology requirements but also
               financially," he said.

               The company expects plenty of public and
               scientific interest in the project.

               High-speed impact

               "That's why we expect this mission to go on with
               the next phases, or at least with even more
               detailed studies on the key aspects of the
               mission," he said.

               If it does, a suitable asteroid will be selected and
               then Hidalgo will slam into it at extremely high
               speed, probably around 10 kilometres (six and a
               half miles) per second.

               Sancho will be orbiting the asteroid at a safe
               distance to see what happens.

               If all goes to plan, the asteroid's orbit will be
               disturbed in the beginning by a few fractions of a

               The idea is that Sancho will measure this tiny
               shift and feed the data back to Earth.

               Tiny changes in orbit can become much larger
               over time and Deimos wants to use the
               experiment to calculate how to knock a real
               rogue asteroid off course.

               Early warning

               Whether such an approach to dealing with an
               asteroid threat would work would depend largely
               on how much warning there is.

               Hidalgo and Sancho would take many months to
               reach their target.

               Any Hidalgo-like satellite used to deflect an
               incoming hazard would have to hit it in just the
               right place and at just the right speed.

               Getting it right would involve great precision, but,
               as Mr Gonzalez points out, would not require the
               nuclear super-rockets of science fiction.

               If the project does get the go-ahead, the Don
               Quixote mission would provide valuable
               information about the composition of the target

               "This mission would provide, for the first time, a
               look inside the asteroids," said Mr Gonzalez.

               "The results of the experiment would either
               validate our proposed strategy or might mean
               we have to think of other solutions, such as
               placing a huge solar sail on the asteroid's
               surface to use the solar wind to change its

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