Russia May Head Mission to Deflect Asteroid Apophis

by Nancy Atkinson on December 30, 2009

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Orbital path of Apophis. Credit: NASA NEO Program


Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to deflect a large asteroid and prevent a possible collision with Earth, according to a radio interview by the head of the country’s space agency. Anatoly Perminov said the space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to asteroid Apophis, and said NASA, ESA, the Chinese space agency and others would be invited to join the project. Apophis is a 270-meter (885-foot) asteroid that was spotted in 2004. It is projected to come within 29,450 kilometers (18,300 miles) of Earth in 2029, and currently has an estimated 1-in-250,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2036.

A panel at the recent American Geophysical Union conference stressed that asteroid deflection is a international issue.

“There is a geopolitical misconception that NASA is taking care of it,” said former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who is part of the B612 Foundation, which hopes to prove the technology to significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid by 2015. “They aren’t and this is an international issue. The decisions have to be world decisions.”

Perminov seemed unaware that NASA’s Near Earth Object program recently downgraded the possibility of a 2036 asteroid impact and also for a subsequent pass in 2068.

Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis asteroid is getting closer and may hit the planet. “I don’t remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032,” Perminov said. “People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”

Perminov wouldn’t disclose any details of the project, saying they still need to be worked out. But he said the mission wouldn’t require any nuclear explosions.

“Calculations show that it’s possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges,” Perminov said. “The threat of collision can be averted.”

Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, hailed Perminov’s statement as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids like 2036 Apophis.

“Apophis is just a symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about,” he said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.

Sources: Associated Press/Yahoo News, AGU panel discussion

Here’s some more information on the 2036 meteor.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Afro_Samurai December 30, 2009 at 1:37 PM

I say go for it. I like that the Russians thought of it first. Why not? It would be more of a discovery/test run of the possibility we could even pull such a thing off. Projects like these always lead to the discovery thousands of new practical space and earth applications. Hey we may even find out if we could mine asteroids for deep space travel. If we HAD to we could even send robots…. yawn.

FASTSIGNS_Geneva December 30, 2009 at 1:53 PM

If they mess this up and steer the asteroid toward the Earth in error, they could kill millions/billions of people. Who give them the right to risk these lives?

ZomZom December 30, 2009 at 11:14 AM

I don’t get it — if the asteroid isn’t going to hit, why bother?

Jorge December 30, 2009 at 11:19 AM

Wereas I’m totally in agreement that this is an international issue and should be decided internationally (the whole asteroid detection/deflection/whatever should be managed internationally. By scientists, not by politicians), I’m not at all comfortable about trusting any activity in that area to someone that apparently heads one of the major space egencies and appears to so poorly informed as this Perminov fellow.

It just doesn’t bode well.

SuperKevin December 30, 2009 at 11:32 AM

If it doesn’t involve putting any type of weapon in space I’m all for it. Although the chances of it hitting are low this is a good test run for future threats.

Silver Thread December 30, 2009 at 12:40 PM

Whether by Apophis or by some other unknown threat, the Earth is going to get hit by something eventually. It makes sense to start figuring out how to avert this possibility now. Hell if we’re really savvy we might figure out a way to mine the asteroid or set it in orbit around earth. Eh I’m spitting in the wind.

Lawrence B. Crowell December 30, 2009 at 1:13 PM

This is really not a good idea. The fact that they admit they are still working it out is not a very good sign either. The problem is that if you goof this up you might in fact send it towards Earth, though that is unlikely.

One possible way to change the course of an astroid is to direct mirrors to it. This would reflect light, and moreimportantly UV to it. This would ionize the dust on it which would send it flying away from the body. Over a long time this might provide a nudge that would defect it. Of course considerable forewarning is needed.

Given the odds on this I say it is best to leave well enough alone. This is really a bad idea IMO.

LC

Jon December 30, 2009 at 1:31 PM

Whatever we (Russia, the human species) do, it will be an advancement. For science! What could go wrong? ;)

laurient December 30, 2009 at 3:02 PM

we need to learn how to do this
its a good international project

Jim Gagnon December 30, 2009 at 4:48 PM

I hate to sound cynical, but this sounds like a bald-faced attempt to scare Russia and other world governments into ponying up more money for space. I would love to see missions to the asteroids, but there really isn’t a need to rush or take the money away from more deserving space exploration.

Torbjorn Larsson OM December 30, 2009 at 6:36 PM

Russia’s space agency is eagerly trying to whip up interest. The other day it was a nuclear rocket, today it is planetary risk mitigation. But even if it isn’t immediately constructive it is at least establishing that interest in a broader base.

If it doesn’t involve putting any type of weapon in space I’m all for it.

Kinetic objects are by definition general risks, and if steerable by definition weapons.

Even if, as someone noted, it is a lot easier to avoid hitting Earth than the reverse.

Who give them the right to risk these lives?

Who gave the Near Earth Objects the right to risk these lives?

Given that they exist and constitutes a real risk, as opposed to the rather difficult and contrived case of hitting Earth on purpose, or even more so by accident, it is important to take steps to mitigate these risks.

Why? Because we can. (And not doing so would be immoral.)

andyf December 31, 2009 at 5:53 AM

About time all the space capable nations co-operated, and not just for ‘what ifs’. It’s
time to stop using space as a political issue and do what man is destined to do – explore. I agree that the politicians should be kept well out of it, especially with loose cannons like Putin off the leash.

And Nancy – it’s Rusty Schweickart, not Schweigart. http://www.well.com/~rs/

Happy New Year and keep up the good work :)

Andy

hydrazine December 31, 2009 at 9:19 AM

Well, if you can’t figure out what’s it all about it’s about money. We don’t know what kind of scientist approached Perminov but any kind of scientist can check with Google and in 30 seconds realize that everybody else seems to be pointing the opposite way. Besides, Russians have proven by now that they master the celestial mechanics well enough to get this particular calculation right. It can hardly be anything other then budgetary politics. So if this can deflect some money from the Spectacular Fireworks Project aka Bulava, well, what the heck, why not? ;-)

Happy New Year!

Aqua December 31, 2009 at 10:55 AM

Practice is good……..*

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