Friday, September 27, 2013

The Plan to Redirect Asteroids With Lasers and a Mothership


Dr. Richard Fork with the plan to save the world via UAH.

Asteroids, man. Turns out, there’s a ton of them near the Earth and eventually one’s going to swing right into us. In fact, they swing into Earth all the time. So, let’s say you want to redirect a little asteroid, one that’s, oh I don't know, around the size of the one that blew everyone’s minds when it exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February. How would you do?

Lasers. Naturally, you’d use lasers, right? That’s what Richard Fork, an electrical and computer engineering professor at University of Alabama, Huntsville proposed to NASA. And unlike other space-based, laser protection systems, Fork thinks this one could be feasible in the relatively near future. "Much of the required technology is existing stuff that is out there now. It's not too expensive," Fork said. "It's doable in a few years if the effort is well-funded."

It works like this—one controlling “mothership” and multiple microspacecraft are sent at the asteroid. The smaller spacecraft orbit within a few kilometers of the asteroid, and at the optimal moment bombard it with trains of ultrashort optical pulses, reflected into just the right spot. The lasers heat the asteroid in those just-right spots, which cause “plumes of ejecta” that propel the asteroid off its Earth-smashing course, and off to somewhere else.

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