Sometimes methods of solving complex problems is quite simple – even in case of asteroids.
Recently NASA announced recently about new initiative, in fact formalizing current efforts to prevent threat of asteroids. New organization called Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) met with quick and positive response from Russian Academy of Science. Russians would like to participate in this initiative referring to early warning from Near-Earth Objects which could potentially be threat for Earth. Chelyabinsk case, when 20 meter undetected asteroid enter atmosphere, change way of thinking about potential danger from space. It showed that early warning could minimalize losses and would help in avoiding panic in inhabited areas. Europe earlier spotted potential risk connected with NEOs and since 2012 is working also in this area. European research program is called NEOShield and it was started in 2012 at the initiative of the European Union.
On 16 January 2016, Central Machine Building Research Institute spokesman announced that Institute will develop new techniques of deflecting NEOs under NEOShield program. According to announcement, new technique should base not on high velocity impact spacecraft, but on nuclear warhead detonating near potential asteroid to deflect it. As it is well known, using any nuclear weapon or performing nuclear tests is forbidden under Outer Space Treaty from 27 January 1967; Spokesman claims that ban should be reanalyzed, though nuclear means of protection against asteroids are not weapon or in any way are not serving military purposes:
“However, if due to an asteroid threat will rise the issue of enormous damage or even the very existence of life on the Earth, those bans, of course, will be dropped,”
Some information about possible way of using such technique were also announced. Nuclear explosion will not be performed close to Earth but in save distance and primary objective will not be destroying asteroid, because just like in case of destroying satellite by ASAT missile, asteroid will fall into smaller pieces which will be harder to deflect or destroy:
“In this case, a nuclear explosion is made so that an asteroid is not falling into parts, but ejects the substance, thus causing the jet thrust, which changes its orbit. This change will be evident most as the asteroid approaches the Earth next time – it will be deflected to a security distance from the planet.”
NEOShield was established as consortium of 13 various research institutes, universities and industrial partners with contribution of NASA and Roscosmos. Main objective of consortium is research on effects of possible NEO collision with Earth. Under constant research are techniques of mitigation effects of impact of asteroid: the kinetic impactor, blast deflection, and the gravity tractor. Under NEOShield many experiments in terms of high speed impacts were performed as well as research and analyzing asteroids, various experiments over potential methods of protecting Earth from large NEOs. One of main programs which were crucial for NEOShield was Rosetta. It was space probe launched on 2 March 2004 to perform along with Philae lander observation on surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On 2014 lander detached from Rosetta and successfully land on 67P. This success and continuous demand of research over asteroids and comets lead to starting NEOShield 2 program in 2015. This time program is under leadership of Airbus Defence and Space and is meeting demand of PROTEC-2-2014 call of the European Commission to “Access technologies and characterization for Near Earth Objects (NEOs)”. Program is developing along with 11 international partners : Airbus DS GmbH, DLR, Airbus Defence and Space SAS, Airbus Defence and Space LTD, Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique, Deimos Space Sociedad Limitada Unipersonal, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung eV, GMV Aerospace and Defence SA Unipersonal, Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Observatoire de Paris and The Queen’s University of Belfast. Main objectives are still focused on searching and guidance of Near-Earth Objects and developing high-velocity kinetic impact spacecraft for deflecting them and general astronomical observations of NEOs.