Scientists Propose System For Eliminating Threat Of Asteroids, Meteors
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A pair of California scientists unveiled a proposal this week for a system that could eliminate threatening asteroids or meteors, just as a meteor explodes over Russia and an asteroid grazes past Earth within a 24-hour span.
Several online videos showing a meteorite streaking, then exploding over Russia, and reports describing the asteroid 2012 DA14 serve as timely reminders of just how crucial the system, dubbed DE-STAR, could be.
“We have to come to grips with discussing these issues in a logical and rational way,” said system designer Philip Lubin, a University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) physicist. “We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats.”
“Duck and cover is not an option,” he added. “We can actually do something about it and it’s credible to do something. So let’s begin along this path. Let’s start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start.”
Described by scientists as a “directed energy orbital defense system,” the system is designed to utilize the sun´s energy and convert it into an array of laser beams capable of destroying, or evaporating any potential impact threats.
DE-STAR is also designed to shift a larger asteroid’s orbit —— possibly deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun. According to the physicists, the system could also have an academic function, in being used to assess an asteroid’s composition.
Lubin´s collaborator Gary Hughes, a professor from California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly), San Luis Obispo, noted that the DE-STAR system is completely based on current essential technology.
“This system is not some far-out idea from Star Trek,” he said. “All the components of this system pretty much exist today. Maybe not quite at the scale that we’d need —— scaling up would be the challenge —— but the basic elements are all there and ready to go. We just need to put them into a larger system to be effective, and once the system is there, it can do so many things.”
During their development process, Lubin and Hughes created several DE-STAR prototype systems in a range of sizes, from a desktop device to one measuring six miles across.
One of the smaller systems–DE-STAR 2, about 330 feet in diameter, “could start nudging comets or asteroids out of their orbits,” Hughes said.
The larger DE-STAR 4 —— at 6.2 miles in diameter —— could destroy an asteroid 500 meters across over the course of one year.
“There are large asteroids and comets that cross the Earth’s orbit, and some very dangerous ones going to hit the Earth eventually,” he added. “Many have hit in the past and many will hit in the future. We should feel compelled to do something about the risk. Realistic solutions need to be considered, and this is definitely one of those.”
The DE-STAR system is just one of the new proposals that could impact how we approach threats from asteroids and meteors. Planetary Resources, a company with the intention of eventually mining asteroids, recently announced that its Arkyd-100 Series of spacecraft will be assisting in the assessment of potentially hazardous asteroids near Earth.
In January, the company released a video of its full scale Arkyd-100 mechanical prototypes. Because the prototype is very small, the craft is designed to cut the cost of deep space missions, potentially maximizing profits for the company.