Artist's impression of one of the repurposed satellites on its way to hit an asteroid that endangers Earth. Credit: Airbus

Using Satellites To Save Earth From a Cataclysmic Asteroid Impact—10 Things You Need To Know

Maybe the defenses we need already exist.

On International Asteroid Day, which is celebrated annually on June 30, the UN draws attention to the need to protect the planet from dangerous celestial bodies. To exchange ideas on how to protect the Earth, the organization created the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group, a forum that brings together space agencies from different countries, which in 2020 included 19 participants.

Despite many different proposals for intercepting asteroids dangerous for the Earth, most of the ideas are still related to the dynamic impact on bodies using spacecraft, new satellites, or explosions.

Since in the whole history not a single device has been specially designed to strike a dangerous asteroid, experts began to think about how to shoot them down using the available means.

Deflecting asteroids with existing repurposed satellites

1. One of the original ideas was proposed by the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which, among other things, is engaged in the development and creation of satellites.

2. Its engineers believe that large telecommunications satellites broadcasting television signals to Earth can be used to knock dangerous asteroids out of their orbit.

3. As part of the Fast Kinetic impactor Deflection concept, developed in the company’s defense division, it is supposed to repel the threat of a collision with an asteroid by redirecting a spacecraft to it. And there is no need to invent a new apparatus for this.

4. Most of the communication satellites are in the so-called geostationary orbit, they hang over one daughter of the Earth at an altitude of 36 thousand kilometers, orbiting, like the planet, one revolution per day.

5. These satellites are usually quite heavy, about the size of a small bus, and weighing four to six tons. This circumstance prompted engineers to use such devices to push asteroids out of orbit.

6. According to Albert Falke, the developer of the FastKD concept at Airbus, in order to knock an asteroid threatening the Earth out of orbit, it will take about ten such vehicles in a short time.

7. According to the scenario proposed by Airbus, in the event that a dangerous asteroid approaching Earth is detected, all satellite manufacturers in the world must urgently convert the upcoming communications satellites into anti-asteroid weapons.

8. All such projectiles must be launched within one month in order to reach the dangerous body at about the same time.

9. The total momentum of satellites hitting an asteroid can move its trajectory by only a couple of centimeters, but this may be enough to knock it off course, crossing the Earth’s orbit.

10. According to scientists, in order to hit the asteroid, the satellite-projectile must be equipped with a special module for communication in interplanetary space with the Earth, as well as for navigation and accurate approach to the body.

Other similar initiatives

Recently, Chinese scientists came up with another initiative to protect the Earth from a potential threat from space. They proposed to use 23 heavy rockets Changzheng-5 (the heaviest rocket in China today) to deflect the 492-meter asteroid Bennu from orbit, which will fly at a fairly close (7.5 million kilometers) distance from Earth between 2175 and 2199 years. Currently, the probability of it falling to Earth during this time period is estimated at 1/2700.

According to the calculations of the Chinese, the simultaneous launch and impact of projectiles weighing 24 tons, which can launch such missiles, will cause the asteroid to shift its trajectory by 9 thousand kilometers – a distance 1.5 times the diameter of the Earth.

Earlier, Roscosmos reported that Russia is also conducting research on active protection from asteroids. Alexander Bloshenko, the executive director of the state company for promising programs and science, explained the plans to create a constellation of asteroid-comet hazard warning satellites.


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Sources:

Falke, A., Atkinson, K., & Chapuy, M. (n.d.). Hijacking a satellite for Short-Warning Asteroid Deflection – FastKD Mission, Design and Implementation.
Pultarova, T. (2021, July 8). Repurposed communications satellites could help save humanity from an asteroid impact. Space.com.
ROBITZSKI, D. (2021, July 12). Scientists: We Could Smash Existing Satellites Into a Killer Asteroid to Knock It Off Course. Futurism.
Turner, B. (2021, July 10). China wants to launch asteroid-deflecting rockets to save Earth from Armageddon. LiveScience.
Whitwam, R. (2021, July 12). We Might Be Able to Deflect an Asteroid by Sacrificing Satellites. ExtremeTech.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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