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NASA testing ability to change asteroid orbits for planetary defense

NASA testing ability to change asteroid orbits for planetary defense

More appropriate priority for space agency than social justice experimentation

From time to time, I have covered the history of asteroid impacts on Earth that result in real global climate change and verifiable world-wide extinctions.

In a heart-warming development that shows that many scientists recognize a real risk to the Earth, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is now developing space technology to prevent humans from following in the footsteps of the dinosaurs into impact oblivion.

NASA and the European Space agency are teaming up for a new mission named The Double Asteroid Redirect Test (or DART).

The project aims to knock an asteroid off course by slamming into it using a special probe traveling at around 4 miles per second. DART is targeting an asteroid dubbed “Didymos” and its smaller counterpart, “Didymoon,” in an effort to “punch” the smaller rock off course. “Smaller” is a bit deceptive as Didymoon is about the size of the Pyramid of Giza. That might not sound like much, but if an asteroid that size were to impact Earth at around 19 miles a second (the average speed of asteroids), scientists say that could potentially destroy a city and wreck and entire region.

Dr. Elena Adams leads a team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, which is the group building the asteroid-moving spacecraft to test. She offers an interesting perspective on her job duties:

“Every now and again, when I’m feeling a little feisty, I say that my job is to save the world,” Adams said. “Most of the time I say I work at NASA missions and at this time I’m working on the DART mission that is going to move an asteroid.”

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission will target a moon revolving around the asteroid Didymos.

…“If an asteroid the size of Didymos, which is the moon we’re trying to hit, would hit the Earth, it would basically create devastation on a regional scale,” Adams said. “So that’s the catastrophe were trying to avoid.”

The craft the team is planning to test is about the size of a Honda Civic and is scheduled for launch in summer 2021.

They plan for DART to reach speeds as fast as 15,000 miles per hour. The crash in October 2022 will fling debris from the asteroid moon. A small satellite will accompany the DART spacecraft to measure the effect.

The team wants to hit the asteroid moon with enough force to bump it, but not break it apart. The moon orbits the asteroid at a speed of about seven inches per second. They hope to change the speed by about a centimeter per second.

“We’re just going to give it a love tap,” said Andy Rivkin, the mission’s other co-lead and planetary astronomer at APL.

In theory, a series of taps over time could deflect an asteroid off a course for Earth.

One impact may suffice if scientists have enough warning time. An imminent asteroid strike, however, would require multiple launches and impacts.

“You could have a constant stream,” Rivkin said. “Each one nudges it a bit more.”

The timing on these tests in excellent. Two sizeable asteroids will approach Earth over the next few days.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labarotory (JPL) had picked up the first asteroid, named CB2 but they have also indicated that a second asteroid will hurtle towards earth on Tuesday. The second asteroid, PV25, will barrel towards Earth at break-neck speed in what NASA’s JPL has deemed a “close approach”. Scientists at the JPL have indicated that the asteroid will fly past earth at a staggering 13,622mph or 6.09 per second.

And while these two aren’t likely to hit our planet, eventually there will be one that will.

Remember when President Obama’s NASA was more focused on social justice, to the point some thought the space agency was dead? It appears that President Trump has returned it to its original mission: “To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.


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To hell with love taps. Nuke the sucker from the Earth side so it bends the trajectory and debris away from Earth.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to Elric. | February 10, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    Orbital dynamics are very complicated. Nuke an asteroid and it will likely breakup. It is most certainly possible that part of the asteroid will be accelerated at a higher velocity towards earth.

    At this time we know little about physical structure of asteroids, how each asteroid is handled must be dependent on its specific composition.

    One thing to consider is that steering asteroids would also be a very effective weapon, a weapon which makes a nuke look like a firecracker.

      “One thing to consider is that steering asteroids would also be a very effective weapon, a weapon which makes a nuke look like a firecracker.”

      See Niven’s and Pournelle’s Footfall or the Centauri asteroid bombardment of the Narn homeworld on “Babylon 5.”

So NASA’s first priority is no longer diversity through inclusion of the Muslim world? What about the war on global warming? Sounds like NASA is placing space issues above social justice. The communist children of the corn are not going to like this.

“Heart warming” … Is this some sort of take off on “Global Warming” … what happens if too many people get warm hearts … will Florida and lower Manhattan be under water and polar bears invading Seattle? You really have to cool your jets.

This is just crap science. The mass of the asteroid is probably a million or more times the mass of the space probe. The chance of changing the trajectory of the asteroid would be similar to that of a gnat changing the trajectory of your car when it splats on the windshield.

    Oversoul Of Dusk in reply to snopercod. | February 11, 2019 at 8:46 am

    Please show us YOUR calculations of the effect of the collision of the spacecraft with the asteroid.

    You wouldn’t call someone else’s work “crap” without evidence, right?

    DaveGinOly in reply to snopercod. | February 11, 2019 at 6:04 pm

    The farther away an asteroid’s trajectory is altered, the smaller necessary angular deviation becomes. If the trajectory can be change before the asteroid passes a larger body, like the sun, you can also add the change in the gravitational forces on the asteroid that will contribute to putting it off an orbit that intersects with the Earth. And a miss is as good as a mile. The asteroid just has to miss, it doesn’t have to miss by much. Wrap it in a plastic bag and attach it to a light sail. Given enough time, the pressure of sunlight alone would be enough to radically alter the asteroid’s orbit.

We’re talking about “love taps” on things ranging in size from Plymouth Rock to Gibraltar. A few million taps might make a difference. Nobody is going to shoot off a few million rockets to do that.

Back in my days as a card-carrying Rocket Scientist, just for a little light entertainment instead of watching TV I crunched through the numbers to see how far out one would have to attach a full Saturn V booster to an asteroid to move it enough to do any good. We’re talking over seven million pounds of thrust, and of course there’s no way to get a booster that size out into space, all fueled up and ready to go, but I was just approximating to make the calculations a little less deadly. The answer? The booster would have to do its thing somewhere out past the orbit of Jupiter to do any good at all. At that distance nobody would even know that the rock was a menace, and it would take more than a year to get a rocket there anyway. So I wouldn’t get too excited about this. If it was more likely to happen, they wouldn’t have APL doing it. Oh, the stories I could tell . . .

    Looking at a recent paper that references the mission here:

    At a optimal deflection of 1 mm/sec it would take around 150 days to integrate the delta V to move it the diameter of the Earth. So we are talking the order of months.

    There is no need to wait to refine the orbital calculations.Launch on sighting. Having a fleet of interceptors orbiting in loiter mode would allow for a rapid dispatch using sling shot maneuvers.

    The real problem is that anything resembling a “orbital deflector” is indistinguishable from a weapon. Our society may be too paranoid to save itself.

      pawn in reply to pawn. | February 11, 2019 at 10:03 am

      So, even from a purely physical stand point, it’s a stretch.One “love-tap” will be too late (as they imply) but the political hurdles are difficult. Leave it to the Chinese to save the world? Would we let them? Ironic if the big space rock comes down on a planet devastated by nuclear war. I think Niven wrote a similar scenario as this in Lucifer’s Hammer.

      DaveGinOly in reply to pawn. | February 11, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      Deflecting it is a brute-force method of doing the job. You could get behind it and give it a push. If you increase its velocity just a smidgen, that means it will cross the earth’s orbit sooner, even if you haven’t altered its trajectory/path through space. So long as the earth isn’t there when the asteroid intersects the earth’s orbit, that’s a miss.

        The total energy required increase the target’s KE by the same amount is less if you ram it “elastically” than if you decelerate, land and then use your fuel. Best to use your fuel to get all of the KE into the target by impactor velocity.

I guess DC comics should have thought about this before killing off Superman. Now what can we do?

Actually, Travelers, a very good sci-fi series is based on this idea. And unlike other TV series, they also include the unintended consequences part.

Sounds like as good an excuse as any to restart space based nuclear testing.

regulus arcturus | February 10, 2019 at 7:58 pm

SMOD could rid us of a good number of SJWs…

There are things in nature that humans simply cannot control. The huge subterranean lake of molten lava trying to get out under Yellowstone Park is one of them. It is believed that if it ever erupts, it will probably wipe out North America and there isn’t a single thing we can do about it. The human spirit is one that never gives up, but there are some things that are beyond our reach.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to inspectorudy. | February 11, 2019 at 9:21 am

    “some things that are beyond our reach”

    Humanity’s history is about bringing ever more things within our reach. Deflecting asteroids is probably within reach, controlling Yellowstone is far out of reach.

The still is from a Discovery Channel program. Some brilliant soul has set it to music. Knowing that many of you are rock ‘n’ roll freaks, watch and listen as the world is destroyed to Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig In The Sky”: