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Planetary defence and universal exploration

Day-to-day worries like global warming and geo-political instability will all be rendered moot were an asteroid to slam into Earth.

Sound far fetched? Maybe not. Of the 400,000 plus asteroids in our solar system over 7,700 are classified as near-Earth objects, or NEOs.

The orbits of these NEOs bring them close to that of Earth’s and the chance of a collision, whilst small, could bring huge devastation. For example, in 1908 an object of around 30-50m in diameter entered the atmosphere and exploded, with the air burst flattening over 2,000 sq km of forest in Tunguska, Siberia.

With this in mind, Briefing is pleased to inform you that the 2011 Planetary Defence Conference (PDC2011) is taking place this week in Bucharest.

The fourth in a series of global meetings, PDC2011 brings together scientists, space experts, industry, academics and policy-makers to share research results and consider options for a global response should a NEO swing by a little too closely.

As previously reported in The Engineer, a 400m wide asteroid called Apophis is set to come near enough to Earth in 2029 for its orbit to be affected, putting it into a collision course in 2036.

Measures for mitigating disaster scenarios depend on the composition of the asteroid. Rather than firing missiles at them (Briefing’s preferred option), some scientists have proposed deflection strategies that use mirrors to melt away a section of the asteroid to alter its course.

Still in space and news that Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final launch has been delayed until at least the end of this week, because technicians need to replace a switch box in the engine compartment, Nasa has announced.


Final flight: Endeavour’s last launch will take a particle detector experiment to the ISS

The two week mission will take Endeavour to the International Space Station (ISS) for the last time, where four space walks are scheduled to take place.

Endeavour’s crew, including British born pilot Greg H Johnson, will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 - a particle physics detector designed to measure cosmic rays to search for dark matter and antimatter - and ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-3, which NASA says is designed to support external payloads mounted to ISS.

The entire Shuttle fleet goes into retirement after the final Atlantis mission in June and NASA is already investigating successors through its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev2) programme.

Last month NASA announced that it had awarded a total of $269.3m in CCDev2’s second round of funding to four companies.

Blue Origin ($22m), Sierra Nevada Corporation ($80m), Space Exploration Technologies ($75m) and Boeing ($92.3m) will use the money to advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of their systems, including launch vehicles and spacecraft.

Here on Earth, Toyota and Nissan are to release their full year results on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. Both companies suffered at home and abroad when an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11.

For Toyota, production was cut back at its North American and Chinese plants, as well as at its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire, due to parts supply problems.

Production at Nissan’s Sunderland plant was effected due to parts supply problems too.

The good news for Nissan is that it has achieved a 35 per cent year-on-year rise in European sales for the first four months of 2011, and record market share for April.

The company sold a total of 235,543 vehicles in January-April, an increase of more than 61,000 units compared to 2010.

Finally, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to launch its ’Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation’ today. The report is said to compare 164 scenarios on renewable energy and is expected to be the most comprehensive analysis ever of trends and perspectives for renewable energy

Readers' comments (10)

  • Don't panic sell your shares yet or tell your boss what they can do with their job!
    Probabilities are way out side anything to worry about with this one.

    But on the other hand someone does win the Euro lottery each week!

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  • That's because someone's guaranteed to win the lottery every week. Nobody's guaranteed to be hit by an asteroid. At least, we hope not.

  • Rather than firing missiles at them (Briefing’s preferred option), some scientists have proposed deflection strategies that use mirrors to melt away a section of the asteroid to alter its course. (quote)

    ....And then there's the Vogons wanting to clear the solar system site for their intergalactic bypass interchange...

    Dispatching Apophis with a missile is indeed a relatively straightforward fix, but where will the bits go? Is the plan to break it up, or have a nearby detonation and use the heat energy to have a similar effect to the mirror idea, i.e. cause a big vapour jet and nudge our inbound visitor into a not so near miss?

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  • So Apophis will finally get to destroy the Earth and the Stargate SG1 team !!

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  • Not if the SG1 team is at the Alpha site.

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  • While this is quite naturally a target for humour we should recognise it has the potential advantage of providing an international cause celebre through which we could drive technology, create jobs and potentially reduce our vulnerability as a species by kick starting a colonization and space industrialization programme. After all whil politicians prefer to garner the low hanging fruit some of us have a desire to drive our species forward , politically, scientificaly and technologically.

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  • By 2029, we should have the technology to be able to plant an atomic bomb on Apophis, timed to detonate when it is at the point on its orbit where it is furthest from Earth. None of the resulting remnants would be likely to have velocity that would leave it on a collision course with the Earth. Even if any remnants did eventually reach the Earth, they would be small enough to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

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  • Erm - what happens to the ISS occupants when there are no more shuttles?

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  • They use Soyuz.

  • Not sure i want any spaceship taking off with an atomic bomb onboard - the odds of being hit by an asteroid are pretty miniscule, but the odds of a craft leaving Earth blowing up are pretty high!

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  • By 2029 maybe we will have the technology available to attach a few "thrusters" to our visitor that will steer it into a stable parking and mining orbit about the Earth-Moon system. No atom bombs necessary.

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  • Depending on the size I would think that attaching a rocket engine to the asteroid, solar powered or otherwise to gently steer the asteroid clear would be more precisely controllable than explosions and mirrors. Or a Tugboat rocket?

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