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A California-based nonprofit company called The Aerospace Corporation is developing an asteroid deflection system designed to tackle mid-sized asteroids capable of causing widespread damage on Earth.
Nahum Melamed, project leader at The Aerospace Corporation, explained in an interview “We were looking at objects of similar size [to the Chelyabinsk asteroid] that could occur in our lifetime… And we have shown that we can deflect them with that system over about a few weeks of operation.”
The Chelyabinsk is an asteroid that broke apart over the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia in February 2013 and triggered a powerful shockwave that shattered glass and injured over 1,000 people. These types of asteroids are much more common than massive space rocks capable of destroying a city, but they are still capable of causing a lot of damage.
The Aerospace Corporation took inspiration from SpinLaunch’s suborbital accelerator for its design, which uses a centrifuge mechanism to spin payloads at 10,000 g’s before flinging them skyward. This accelerator could be eventually used to launch small satellites and payloads to low Earth orbit with only a fraction of the fuel required for a traditional rocket launch.
According to Interesting Engineering, the goal of The Aerospace Corporation is to create a smaller, more simplified version of the suborbital accelerator to deflect an asteroid. This new version will be launched into space, where it will rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid. When the payload reaches the asteroid, the centrifugal system anchors itself onto the space rock, extracting regolith at high speeds and flinging it outward.
“By pushing it away from the asteroid, the asteroid will recoil and will get deflected by a tiny bit,” Melamed said. “So over time, by repeating the process repeatedly over weeks and months, we should be able to deflect the asteroid.”
The Aerospace Corporation says that using this method, asteroids between 30 to 60 meters in width could be deflected in weeks, and larger asteroids in months.
Melamed also stated that the centrifuge system could double up as a space mining device, meaning it wouldn’t be useless for long periods between hypothetical asteroid threats.
According to NASA, there are currently no known asteroids that pose a threat to Earth within the next 100 years. Nevertheless, a handful of large space rocks were detected at the last moment in recent years, so there’s a consensus that better safe than sorry.
Information provided by Interesting Engineering.