Science and Technology

Countdown to the asteroid-busters

| Updated on August 01, 2021

Airbus scientist Albert Falke wants to shoot communication satellites to throw killer asteroids off track

Another International Asteroid Day — July 30 — has just gone past and some people duly remembered the Tunguska, the large meteoroid that exploded upon a remote region in Siberia on that day in 1908, felling 80 million trees. Since then, people have lived with a lurking fear that our beloved planet might receive a visitation from some monster rock that might — who knows — be the real Armageddon. On July 24, an asteroid named 2008 G20 whizzed past the earth — at a safe 4.7 million km from the earth, but still close enough to give goosebumps. Asteroids are rocks floating in space that have cut loose from a river of rocks from the formative days of the solar system. A big source of these is a doughnut-shaped asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The question that pops up is, what the deuce do we do when we know there is some asteroid out there that is on a collision course with the earth? Science has advanced enough to forewarn, but has it given us implements to deal with the situation? Albert Falke believes it has.

The Airbus scientist, who leads the Fast Kinetic Deflection Study (FastKD), has recently been in the news for saying that it is possible to quickly re-purpose under-construction communication satellites and shoot them off to an approaching asteroid. Communication satellites weigh about 6 tonnes each; maybe ten of them, fired in quick succession, could deflect the asteroid by just an inch or so, millions of miles from the earth — at that distance, the one inch is enough to nudge the rock off course and save our planet.

But what chills the spine is that, if you get it wrong, you might put a harmless flying rock on course to hit the earth.

Published on August 01, 2021

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