Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deflecting asteroids could lead to more versatile spaceprobes

28.09.2005


The UK’s first engineering feasibility study into missions for deflecting asteroids has begun.



The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding a new three-year study into interception and deflection strategies for asteroids found to be on a collision course with Earth. Although there have been similar studies in the past, Dr Gianmarco Radice, department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Glasgow, and Professor Colin McInnes, department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Strathclyde, are approaching the subject in a new way.

“We will be looking at this as engineers. So we want to investigate the practicality of different deflection strategies,” says McInnes. In other words, it is no use having a brilliant deflection scheme if no one can build it with current technology.


Although Hollywood blockbusters have popularised the idea of using nuclear weapons to blow up asteroids, the study will investigate more realistic alternatives such as space mirrors. These would be angled to focus sunlight onto the incoming object. The intense heat would boil away a section of the asteroid, creating a natural rocket that pushes the asteroid in the opposite direction. The study will also look into high-speed collisions to literally knock an asteroid out of the way using no explosives, just a ‘battering ram’ spacecraft.

Asteroids have widely differing compositions, ranging from pure rock or even metal to ice and snow. Knowing what an asteroid is made from, and therefore its likely strength, is the crucial first step in determining the best way to divert it without shattering it. “One of the main objectives of this study is to try to associate a particular deflection strategy with a particular type of asteroid that has to be deviated,” says Radice.

The internal arrangement of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) can critically affect the deviation strategy. Some asteroids, known as rubble piles, are not solid slabs of rock but loose assemblages. Slamming an object into a rubble pile would not be very effective in altering its course, because the rubble would absorb the energy of impact rather like a crumple zone on a car absorbs a crash. Instead, scenarios which melt part of the surface, such as space mirrors, producing jets of gas that gradually ease the object into a new orbit, are favoured.

Yet this is about more than just diverting asteroids, no matter how critical that need may one day become. The biggest part of the study concerns how to intercept such targets. In conventional space exploration, everything is precisely worked out beforehand and targets are chosen that have well-known orbits. That’s how NASA recently bulls-eyed comet Tempel 1 with its Deep Impact mission.

However, a dangerous object is likely to be newly discovered and that means its orbit will be poorly known. “We’d probably have to launch a deflection mission without a clear idea of where we’re aiming,” says McInnes. So, the study will seek to find the best strategies for launching space missions into approximate intercept orbits that can be adjusted later.

To do this, it will investigate the additional fuel that such a spacecraft would require. Because fuel is heavy, spacecraft are traditionally designed to carry little extra. That will have to change with this new approach to space exploration.

Such seat-of-the-pants flying could result in more versatile spacecraft across the board. These would be better able to respond to a variety of unexpected situations. As well as fuel considerations, the team will investigate ‘general purpose’ orbits and flexible navigation strategies that keep a spacecraft’s options open for longer, before committing it to a final destination.

Natasha Richardson | alfa
Further information:
http://www.epsrc.ac.uk

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Enhancing the quantum sensing capabilities of diamond
23.11.2017 | The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

nachricht Quantum optics allows us to abandon expensive lasers in spectroscopy
22.11.2017 | Lomonosov Moscow State University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Frictional Heat Powers Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus

Computer simulation shows how the icy moon heats water in a porous rock core

Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Underwater acoustic localization of marine mammals and vehicles

23.11.2017 | Information Technology

Enhancing the quantum sensing capabilities of diamond

23.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Meadows beat out shrubs when it comes to storing carbon

23.11.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>