Spacecraft Mission Design for the Destruction of Hazardous Near-earth Objects (NEOs) via Distributed-energy Explosives
Earth has been struck and will be struck again by asteroids and comets whose orbits bring them into close proximity with Earth's orbit, collectively termed Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), and such collisions can be catastrophic. One possible means of eliminating the threat posed by a NEO on a collision course with Earth is to deliver and emplace explosive charges into blast holes drilled into the NEO by a human and/or robotic crew. Preliminary design work has been completed regarding the proper fashion in which to distribute these charges throughout the NEO to ensure that their detonation breaks the NEO into fragments no larger than 30 - 50 m in mean diameter so that any fragment that should still collide with Earth will burn up in the atmosphere and not harm Earth's surface. This paper examines the requirements for a spacecraft mission to deliver this distributed-energy blasting system to a given NEO by considering four example target NEOs drawn from the currently known NEO population. A preliminary mission outline for completing the NEO blasting operation is presented that includes basic rendezvous trajectories and deliverable payload mass results for each target NEO, a survey of NEO proximity operations methods and considerations, and a discussion of the issues associated with supporting a human crew for such a mission. This study has concluded that current and near-term launch and propulsion technology is insufficient for support of a distributed-energy blasting mission unless the overall blasting system mass can be dramatically reduced or launch technology improves significantly. NEO proximity operations are deemed feasible for the blasting mission with continued development. Sustaining a human crew for the duration of multi-year NEO blasting mission will also require advances in technology such that crew health and sustenance can be ensured in the remote space environment for an extended duration. All of these required enabling technologies for a blasting mission are of general interest in terms of the overall advancement of crewed and un-crewed solar system exploration.
B. Barbee et al., "Spacecraft Mission Design for the Destruction of Hazardous Near-earth Objects (NEOs) via Distributed-energy Explosives," Planetary Defense Conference Proceedings, The Aerospace Corporation, Jan 2007.
Planetary Defense Conference
Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering
Article - Conference proceedings
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