ESA Plans Armageddon-like Mission to Deflect Incoming Asteroid

 @MarkJohansonIBT on August 17 2011 2:12 PM

Remember the 1998 film "Armageddon" where scientists planned a mission to blow up an asteroid hurtling towards Earth? Well, it looks like the European Space Agency (ESA) is planning its own version, turning fiction into fact.

It seemed a bit far-fetched when Hollywood dreamt up the script, but now ESA is in talks to launch a mission in 2015 that will see a satellite fired at break-neck speed into a "test" asteroid to see if it changes course.

Despite Internet babble about the 1,600-foot-wide asteroid Apophis that space experts predict will miss earth by a few hundred thousand miles in 2036, no such danger has been detected. Yet, that hasn't stopped scientists at ESA, NASA, and the Secure World Foundation from intently studying a course of action should a potential planet-shattering asteroid come our way.

"If an asteroid were ever detected, we'd want to do something -- and deflection is definitely one of the options," an ESA source told FoxNews.com.

The mission, called Don Quijote, would send two spacecraft towards a near-earth asteroid. One would be the "impactor," firing into the asteroid, while the other would orbit around analyzing the data from the experiment.

The two spacecraft will reportedly be called Hidalgo and Sancho, after characters in Miguel de Cervantes 17th century novel for which the mission is named.

The idea is pretty simple: if we see an asteroid on an impact trajectory with earth, our best option is to change the orbit so it doesn't hit us. While we could attempt to blow it up, that would leave a ton of debris that could still fall down to earth.

ESA's plan is more of diversion. By impacting the incoming asteroid with enough advance time, the orbit can be changed, without any collateral damage.

The biggest problem with the idea is how much of an impact do you need? Scientists aren't exactly sure.

A recent study actually looked into what type of instruments would be needed to deflect asteroids. It helps clarify what the Don Quijote mission would need built to get the mission done.

NASA tried something similar with its Deep Impact mission.

In 2005, NASA intentionally sent an impactor probe crashing into the comet Tempel 1. But, instead of trying to see how much the orbit of the comet changed afterwards, they were more interested in digging up surface material to see what lay underneath.

While "Don Quijote" has yet to get the green light, ESA is currently studying the feasibility of the mission.

 

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