NASA outlines its plans to deal with a large asteroid impact | Tech News
The chances of a large asteroid ending up on a collision course with Earth are slim, but NASA is making plans for how to detect and deflect such a catastrophe. Over the next decade, the space agency is planning to design and test ways to destroy an asteroid headed for our planet, or tug it off its path towards us.
There are three techniques that could be used depending on the size of an incoming asteroid and the amount of warning time we have before it hits, he says. One is a gravity tractor, a heavy spacecraft that hovers near the asteroid so that its gravity can tug on the asteroid and pull it off its course.
“That could be enhanced if the spacecraft could collect mass, like a large boulder, from the surface to enhance gravitational attraction,” Lindley Johnson at NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office in Washington, DC said in a 20 June press conference. Another plan is to use a so-called kinetic impactor, deliberately crashing a spacecraft into the asteroid to change its speed and orbit. Johnson says this method will be tested in NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission scheduled to launch in the summer of 2021.
A nuclear device could also be used against an incoming asteroid to either deflect it or break it up into pieces small enough that they would burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
In a report, NASA says they plan to develop mission plans and carry out flight demonstrations on harmless near-Earth objects for both the gravity tractor and kinetic impactor techniques.
NASA is also working with FEMA to prepare emergency responders to help warn people who may be in a place where an asteroid could hit, and to step in with emergency services if that happens.
NASA works with ground-based telescopes around the world to detect and track near-Earth objects. That data is sent to the international asteroid warning network and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, which can warn countries of an impending asteroid impact.
“With the internet, this information about a detection of an asteroid that could be a threat is going to be instantly out. It’s not something that can be hidden. But our processes and protocols are designed to verify and validate that information,” Johnson said.
Read more: We should use nukes to deflect asteroids, says astro algorithm
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