The most destructive weapon humanity has ever developed could help our species avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.
Pretty much any asteroid that poses a threat to Earth can be blasted out of the heavens using a nuclear bomb, even with warning times of a week or less, say a team of scientists who have been developing the idea.
“We have the solution, using our baseline concept, to be able to mitigate the asteroid-impact threat, with any range of warning,” Bong Wie, professor in aerospace engineering at Iowa State University, said Feb. 6 at the 2014 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) meeting at Stanford University.
Wie and his colleagues are developing a concept spacecraft called the Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle, or HAIV.
The HAIV would rendezvous with an asteroid in deep space, then send a kinetic impactor barreling into the object to blast out a crater. The nuclear bomb would follow one millisecond behind — perhaps attached via a long boom, or perhaps flying freely — and then detonate inside the hole, shattering the asteroid into millions of tiny pieces.
Wie and his team suggest that the HAIV concept be coupled with an asteroid-warning system, such as the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), a survey effort being led by the University of Hawaii with $5 million in NASA funding.
When it’s fully operational in 2015, ATLAS should be able to provide a one-day warning for asteroids 26 feet (8 m) wide, a one-week alert for space rocks measuring 148 feet (45 m) across and a three-week warning for 459-foot (140 m) asteroids.
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