There is an old joke that dinosaurs disappeared just because they didn’t develop a space agency. The implication, of course, is that, unlike our reptilian ancestors, we humans could save ourselves from an impending asteroid strike on Earth, given our six and a half decades of spaceflight experience.
But the truth is that while we’ve accomplished amazing things since Sputnik was launched into space in 1957, so far very little effort has been made to develop asteroid deflection technologies. We are terribly inexperienced in this field, and apart from the Hollywood dramatizations, we have not yet tested our abilities. But that is about to change, according to Universe Today.
Wu Yanhua, the deputy head of China’s National Space Administration (CNSA), announced last week that he plans to conduct an asteroid deflection test as early as 2025 – part of a larger asteroid monitoring and defense system that CNSA is in. early stages of development. The monitoring system will consist of both terrestrial and space tools used to catalog objects near Earth that may pose a threat.
Monitoring systems are especially important because the sooner you notice an asteroid coming, the easier it is to deflect it. A distant asteroid may only need a minor touch to redirect it far enough to miss the Earth – the later an asteroid is seen, the harder it will be to change course.
How an asteroid deviates
So from now on, you can sleep well knowing that space agencies around the world have already built robust asteroid monitoring systems and cataloged thousands of objects in the Solar System. None of them pose a realistic threat during our lifetime (currently the highest risk object, known as 2010 RF12, has a 4.8% chance of impacting Earth in 2095. This asteroid 7 meters would cause a fireball similar to the Chelyabinsk meteor of 2013). However, there may be more that we haven’t seen yet, so the new CNSA monitoring project is a welcome addition.
CNSA’s new monitoring program will be associated with an engineering effort to design and build a high-powered rocket that can carry a kinetic impactor: a payload designed to hit an asteroid with enough force to change its orbit. The target asteroid that the impactor intends to test is currently unannounced.
NASA and ESA are also taking the first steps toward developing kinetic defense capabilities against asteroids. NASA’s DART mission, launched in November last year, will try to change the orbit of Dimorphos, a tiny moon that orbits the asteroid Didymos, hitting the moon at high speed.