[astroCS] 'Ready to tackle Armageddon'
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,
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.
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.
"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.
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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