I couldn’t help but to ponder on the possibility of asteroids slamming into other parts of Earth since the roughly 17-meter Chelyabinsk meteor explosion over Russia in February 2013.
So I went researching and found that almost in my own backyard NASA is experimenting with radar equipment to detect asteroids, large and small, before they hit our planet and to begin a plan to acquire samples from an asteroid for experimentation. Since I live on the Space Coast, this tends to be somewhat reassuring as well as innovative.
With the recent changes in America’s space program, we hear a lot about commercial space travel and experimentation here in Brevard County, but “NASA’s ambitious plan to intercept, redirect and explore an asteroid” was news to me. There are now three radar antenna dishes that measure 40 feet in diameter, or a total of 120 feet in diameter, placed in a triangular layout, 197 feet apart from one another which are all linked to computers. A carbon-rich asteroid that is determined to have some precious minerals or water would be an truly advantageous discovery.
The new 3-year project began in June 2013 and will continue development until an early warning system is established to detect inbound meteors and asteroids. Once a specific asteroid is detected that meets the criteria for specimen selection, the plan would include sending a non-manned spacecraft to capture it with a some sort of device and then tow it into a moon orbit. The time frame for this is 2019. A manned spacecraft will allow humans to then walk upon the asteroid, and to experiment and select asteroid samples for return to Earth. This walk is scheduled tentatively for 2021. President Obama’s 2014 budget has $105 million planned for the project. Preventing an asteroid collision will take at least 10 years and likely more.
In the meantime, work is in progress to generate high-resolution radar feedback with a goal of continuous operation. Other uses include tracking debris that orbits our planet. This could help ensure a safer Earth and a safer International Space Station, for example. The high resolution ability could allow mapping of any water on the moon and mapping Mars for dangerous areas to avoid. This would be advantageous for the future Mars mission.
So what are the criteria for the perfect asteroid for the project? According to NY Daily News, it would have to be a 20-30 foot asteroid rock that is speeding through space at less than 1.5 miles per second, and it would have to be close enough to Earth for diverting to the Moon.
Start the hunt!