This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

21 June 2008

Asteroid Deflection Research Center (ADRC) recently established at Iowa State University

A new center devoted for research on NEO mitigation was established at Iowa State University. Dr. Bong Wie, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Iowa State University, is responsible for the center. Here are some quotes from the press release...

An Asteroid Deflection Research Center (ADRC) has been established on the Iowa State campus to bring researchers from around the world to develop asteroid deflection technologies. The center was signed into effect in April by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

“In the early 1990s, scientists around the world initiated studies to assess and devise methods to prevent near-Earth objects from striking Earth,” said Bong Wie, the Vance D. Coffman Chair Professor in Aerospace Engineering and director of the center. “However, it is now 2008, and there is no consensus on how to reliably deflect them in a timely manner,” he noted.

Wie, whose research expertise includes space vehicle dynamics and control, modeling and control of large space structures, and solar sail flight control system development and mission design, joined the Iowa State faculty last August. “I am very happy that Professor Bong Wie has joined the faculty at ISU,” said Elizabeth Hoffman, executive vice president and provost. “His work on asteroid deflection is exciting and of great importance.”

The ADRC will host an International Symposium on Asteroid Deflection Technology in fall 2008. Scientists and engineers from NASA, the European Space Agency, academia, and the aerospace industry will be invited to the Iowa State campus to formulate a roadmap for developing asteroid deflection technologies.

“Developing technologies that can be used to prevent or mitigate threats from asteroids while also advancing space exploration is a challenge we accept as we work to assure a high quality of life for future generations,” said Mark J. Kushner, dean of Iowa State’s College of Engineering. “This research center serves as an excellent opportunity to provide leadership on an issue that has worldwide implications.”

Both high-energy nuclear explosions and low-energy non-nuclear alternatives will be studied as deflection techniques. The nuclear approach, which is often assessed to be 10–100 times more effective than non-nuclear approaches as stated in NASA’s 2007 report to Congress, will be researched to verify its effectiveness and determine its practical viability, according to Wie.

“A 20-meter (66 feet) standoff distance is often mentioned in the literature for a maximum velocity change of a 1-kilometer (0.6 mile) asteroid. However, we have to determine how close the nuclear explosion must be to effectively change the orbital trajectories of asteroids of different types, sizes, and shapes,” Wie explained. “We will develop high-fidelity physical models to reliably predict the velocity change and fragmentation caused by a nuclear standoff explosion.”

The non-nuclear alternatives include kinetic impactors and slow-pull gravity tractors. Wie, who has previously worked on solar sail technology as applied to asteroid deflection, will present his recent study, “Multiple gravity tractors in halo orbits for towing a target asteroid,” at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Astrodynamics Specialists Conference in August. His paper has been accepted for publication in the AIAA Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics.

Link: Press Release

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