Scientists at China’s National Space Science Centre (NSSC) want to send more than 20 rockets into outer space and simultaneously use their kinetic impact to deflect an Earth-bound asteroid, according to Reuters.
NSSC used computer simulations with 23 Long March 5 rockets (each weighing 900 tons) to simultaneously hit and deflect an asteroid dubbed Bennu, a class of rocks that is as wide as the Empire State Building.
Researchers have studied one Bennu, a 78 billion kilogram rock that will come within 7.5 million kilometers of Earth around the year 2271, or about 150 years from now.
The idea is more or less science fiction, sort of like the American film “Armageddon,” when a group of oil rig drillers was sent into outer space by NASA to land on an Earth-bound asteroid, drill a hole, place a nuclear bomb, and save the human race from extinction.
Something more realistic is NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) program that will attempt to alter the path of two minor asteroids using robotic spacecraft sometime later this year or early 2022. The US space agency wants to examine how the kinetic energy from crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid will change the object’s trajectory.
Some scientists have suggested breaking up asteroids with nuclear weapons, but significant risks are involved, such as the object breaking into smaller pieces and still hitting Earth. Using a rocket or spacecraft’s kinetic impact could be a much safer method.
“The proposal of keeping the upper stage of the launch rocket to a guiding spacecraft, making one large ‘kinetic impactor’ to deflect an asteroid, is a rather nice concept,” said Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast.
“By increasing the mass hitting the asteroid, simple physics should ensure a much greater effect,” Fitzsimmons told Reuters. However, he added that such a mission’s actual operation must be reviewed in much greater detail.