“Foresight” Wins First Prize in Apophis Asteroid Tagging Competition

Article written: 26 Feb , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015
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The Near Earth Asteroid (NEO) Apophis is expected to flyby the Earth in 2029. However, this flyby will be more of a “fly-very-close” as the lump of rock will miss the Earth by only a few thousand kilometers. This near-miss isn’t worrying scientists too much, but should the asteroid tumble through a 400 meter gravitational “keyhole”, there is concern that the asteroid could swing by and risk another collision in 2036. Although the odds are fairly slim, astronomers need better precision in calculating Apopis’s orbital trajectory.

How can this be done? Why not send a spaceship to shadow the asteroid on its journey? The Planetary Society has announced just that. The winning design of the Apophis Mission Design Competition will send a probe and tag Apophis to gain more details about this interplanetary vagabond, and has been awarded a healthy $25,000 to help the development of the US “Foresight” mission…

99942 Apophis (otherwise known as asteroid 2004 MN4) caused quite a stir back in 2004 when it was discovered. Lacking detailed observation at the time, the probability of the 270 meter long piece of rock hitting the Earth was around 2.7% – a large risk in astronomical terms. Now we are sure the asteroid will fly straight by, albeit rather close. It is estimated that Apophis will pass within the orbit of geostationary satellites located at 35,786 km above Earth, allowing amateur astronomers a great opportunity to observe the NEO (it will be possible to see the asteroid with the naked eye at night), whilst being secure in the knowledge that it’s not going to come any closer.

So, panic over? Not quite. Although Apophis will miss us on its first approach in 2029, we might not be so lucky on one of its return trips in 2036. During its flyby in 2029, should the asteroid pass through a critical gravitational “keyhole” measuring only 400 meters across, the gravitational deflection applied to the Apophis asteroid may adjust its orbit, setting it up for a collision course with Earth seven years later.

This is the reason for events such as the Planetary Society’s Apophis Mission Design Competition, to raise awareness of the risk posed by NEOs. Although the winning entry, designed by SpaceWorks Engineering Inc. (Atlanta, Georgia) in conjunction with SpaceDev Inc. (Poway, California), is in the design phase, it is hoped that the completed project could launch by 2012. “Foresight” is intended to fly to Apophis and tag the rock with tracking equipment. The orbiter will continue to study the asteroid and follow it on its orbit around the Sun, gathering valuable information about its composition, center of mass, surface features and, most importantly, its trajectory.

Missions plans such as Foresight are required by the international community to be used should the threat of an asteroid collision become reality (and not remain in cheesy sci-fi movies like Deep Impact or Armageddon).

Apophis isn’t science fiction, it isn’t a blockbuster Hollywood movie; it is very real.” – Dan Geraci, the Planetary Society’s board chairman.

For more information on the winning entry and the other award winning designs, see the Planetary Society’s Apophis Mission Design Competition website.


10 Responses

  1. marcellus says

    Very exciting. This will be very interesting to follow in the years to come. I’ve read that the next orbital measurements of Apophis will be made when it reappears from behind the Sun in 2011. Is that accurate?

  2. Johnny Blues says

    We manage to tag and tag along with Apothes.

    Future Report: Unimaginably, the process of tagging and the minute gravity pull of the instrument package has shifted the orbit of Apothes just enough to strike Earth on the next pass in 2036! End of Report.,

  3. alphonso richardson says

    Hopefully, we have a means to make accurate measurements of a NEO rather than some crank / p!ss poor practical joke (We were supposed to be toast on Jan 29 remember?)

  4. Peter K says

    So how big is Apophis and what sort of damage could we expect with an ocean impact?

  5. notskrnl says

    Don’t know wheter its that accurate or not, but according to http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/impacteffects/ we would get a several hundred megaton impact energy (compare to Castle Bravo Nuke with 15 MT, and the pictures/videos on that looked pretty scary to me). Well, depending on the parameters like density and speed which I don’t know, that is.
    If it would hit in the pacific somewhere uninhabited, I guess we would not have that much of a problem (besides tsunamies), on land, the devastation should be a few ten square kilometers

  6. LLDIAZ says

    Why dont we strike it now that we know where its going to be, instead of hoping that its somewhere else in the future. Sounds like its a simple tactical solution to me take out the enemy before its set to do you harm…

  7. Marcus says

    Surely if we are going to all this trouble of tagging to measure any changes would it not be prudent to include an ion plasma drive to be landed on Apophis.Then if any alterations do create cause for concern the ability to make any changes would already be in place.

  8. Mickey Schmidt says

    I am concerned that the asteroid on its pass close to the earth might collide with satellites or other orbiting debris around the earth and the resulting impact(s) could also change the future path of Apophis into a collision course on the next pass. I suppose any impact that changes the path of the asteroid could as easily send into a path that might miss the earth on future passes. Is anyone looking at the potential collisions with earth satellites?

  9. Larry says

    If a meteoroid weighs more than 100,000 tons — and Apophis, 3 times the length of a football field, certainly does — our atmosphere can’t slow it down in the slightest. It retains all its cosmic velocity as it slams into the ground at 90,000 mph, give
    or take. This is in the latest isue of Astronomy April 2008

  10. DBELL says

    In the book of Revalations the Bible tells of a star falling to earth named Wormwood.Prophesy says much about a similar event that is going to change life as you know it.Just think after 2000 years Israel has become a nation again after the Jewish people were sown to the wind yet they came back and in spite of Hitlers campaign against them -In spite of being surrounded by their enemies they are victorious time and time again.The Europian Union or the old Roman Empire has almost completed the revival of the roman empire as fortold in the Bible.Look within your heart if you do not know Jesus and ask his forgiveness.Not much time!

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