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Russian meteor strike prompts call for asteroid sentries

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February 15, 2013

Artist's concept of the Deep Space Industries Firefly satellite (Image: Deep Space Industr...

Artist's concept of the Deep Space Industries Firefly satellite (Image: Deep Space Industries)

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On the same day that a meteor exploded over Russia injuring almost a thousand people and an asteroid passed too close to Earth for comfort, the asteroid-mining company Deep Space Industries (DSI) proposes setting up sentry lines in space to track and study rogue asteroids posing a threat to Earth. Using technology originally intended for prospecting for water and minerals on asteroids, the sentry lines of satellites would provide information for deflecting potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

On Friday, February 15 at 9.26 a.m. local time, a rare instance of a meteor causing injuries and widespread damage occurred in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region. According to reports by Roscosmos and NASA, a meteor about two meters (6.6 ft) in diameter and weighing ten tonnes (11 ton) hit the Earth’s atmosphere traveling at least 33,000 mph (54,000 km/h) and causing a massive sonic boom as it passed over the populated areas.

NASA said at a teleconference that the meteor exploded in a bright flash 12-15 miles (19-24 km) above ground with the force of a 300 kiloton bomb, shattering windows, collapsing the wall of a warehouse at a zinc factory and knocking out mobile phone services.

At least 950 people are known to be injured, and as many as 1,200 reported, with 46 still in hospital, including 13 children who were hit with broken glass as their school’s windows blew in.

This strike happened on the same day as asteroid 2012 DA14 passed the Earth at 1925 GMT at a distance of 17,239 miles (27,743 kim) – the cosmic equivalent of a hair’s breadth.

Artist's concept of asteroid 2012 DA14 and Earth (Image: JPL/NASA)

According to DSI, there are over 10,000 near Earth asteroids big enough to destroy a city and 900 more are discovered every year, yet very little is known about them. DSI’s proposal is to deploy sentry lines of satellites to track and intercept rogue asteroids to determine their threat and how to counter them.

“The hundreds of people injured in northern Russia show it’s time to take action and no longer be passive about these threats,” said Rick Tumlinson, chairman of Deep Space Industries.

The DSI plan is to set up its FireFly satellites to detect and track rogue asteroids. The FireFly was originally designed to target candidate asteroids for mining operations based on value, return times and learn their composition, structure and spin rate. These would be followed by small probes to intercept asteroids and gather close-up data on their structure and composition that would be important in deflecting them.

According to David Gump, CEO of Deep Space Industries, “Placing ten of our small FireFly spacecraft into position to intercept close encounters would take four years and less than US$100 million. This will help the world develop the understanding needed to block later threats.”

Orbit of asteroid 2012 DA14 (Image: NASA)

These sentries would back up ground-based observations, but would also go a step further. “Observations by space telescopes like the Sentinel planned by the B612 Foundation and the smaller units offered by Planetary Resources should be supported," Tumlinson said. "Astronomical observations are a good first step but at Deep Space we believe we need get up close and personal. Then when these objects are identified, we can launch one or more FireFlies to intercept them, and give us close-up images so that we understand what we are dealing with."

DSI is already developing the FireFly as part of its asteroid mining venture, with prospecting scheduled to begin in 2015. The company believes that the spacecraft could be used for sentry duty without modification. According to a press release, DSI will be working to develop low-cost commercial plans to set up asteroid defenses.

"While our primary mission is the harvesting of asteroid resources, we believe that virtually the same effort and technology can be applied to removing this threat to our precious planet," Tumlinson said.

Sources: Deep Space industries, NASA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
8 Comments

While asteroid composition is nice to know it is not necessary to know it does not matter if the rock is deflected or merely pulverized and high yield nukes will do the job adequately. If you prefer non-impact detonation be sure to use bomb pumped X-ray laser clusters to increase the energy applied to the rock. or we could use a pulse fission/fusion rocket for a very high energy impact.

Slowburn
15th February, 2013 @ 07:00 pm PST

This is the largest meteor to hit earth since 1908 (Tunguska event) when a 40 meter asteroid leveled 1000 square miles of trees in Siberia.

The one that landed in Russia was 15 meters and 2012 DA14 that passed close by earth was estimated to be 45 meters.

NYC is 470 square miles, San Fracisco is 250. We are pretty lucky it was the 15 meter asteroid and not 2012 DA14 that hit earth today.

I like the quote I read attributed to Neil deGrasse Tyson. "Meteors are natures way of saying "How's that space program coming along?""

Even if all we succeed in doing is fracturing the asteroid into pieces it would increase the total surface area of the asteroid giving the friction of the atmosphere a chance to do its job.

Daishi
15th February, 2013 @ 08:27 pm PST

Why bother? An "earth killer" size asteroid cannot be defended against, so why waste the money with an "early warning" system? All that will do is give the population 2-3 days or weeks to panic & run amok. I'd rather not know, and just let it hit and destroy everything. Unless you can give reasonable odds against breaking it, or deflecting it, what good is an early warning system?

Rusty Harris
16th February, 2013 @ 05:37 pm PST

re; Rusty Harris

While we may currently lack the ability to deflect a dinosaur killer on a few days warning the meteor that just stuck Russia could have been rendered harmless with less than an hours notice if a rocket similar to a LGM-30 Minuteman or SS-18 missile was ready for immediate launch with guidance package to put a 220 pounds (100 kilos) of ice in its path.

With 2-3 days we could evacuate the affected area of a meteor impact of up to several thousand megatons or break the object up to harmlessness with nuclear explosives and in the event of an human extinction sized object reduce it to something the species would survive.

Slowburn
16th February, 2013 @ 10:45 pm PST

I hope this news means better job security for Rob McNaught, comet and asteriod discoverer based at Siding Spring. His was I think the only part of the Catalina Sky Survey which was monitoring the southern hemisphere's skies for Near Earth Objects, and funding was very recently switched off by NASA (not that it should be all up to NASA to fund this stuff). Australian National University is keeping the project alive for the meantime.

inchiki
17th February, 2013 @ 04:37 pm PST

Leave it to the space pioneers to see an opportunity to profit from the day's news. We can't even respond effectively to AGW, a known threat to life as we know it, that is marching relentlessly and on a predictable schedule. Why would we chose to respond to something as low probability (this year) as a large asteroid strike?

CliffG
18th February, 2013 @ 10:07 am PST

Urge these:

- Early Warning Sat array to scour space for NEAR objects.

- Sensors on Moon for detection of objects incoming.

- expand telescopes on Earth??

Reuse idle satellites for Asteroid Sentries??

Stephen N Russell
18th February, 2013 @ 05:58 pm PST

There is already a known threat coming either in 2029 or 2036 called Apophus, yet no one is paying attention. The issue here is not whether we know something is coming, but whether earthlings can take responsibility for our well being for a change, instead of always blaming others for what we have done. The universe does not bullshit. Either we take responsibility or we die. Our choice.

JC
18th February, 2013 @ 09:45 pm PST
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