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Crowdfunding launched to nuke threatening asteroids

Amy Tyndall, News reporter
May 14, 2015, 18:21 UTC

Sen—A new crowdfunding campaign has been launched to raise money for a rapid, first line of defence against potentially life-threatening asteroids.

The project, called the Emergency Asteroid Defence Project (EADP), aims to protect the planet from large asteroids and other Near Earth Objects (NEOs) by building a Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle, or HAIV (pronounced "Hai-vee").

The spacecraft will combine physical impact on the surface with the use of nuclear explosives to change the course of the asteroid—or even destroy it—before it poses a significant threat to Earth, and with only a few days' warning.

The project is the idea of a Danish non-governmental organisation which has launched the funding campaign on Indiegogo to support the mission.

According to NASA there are over 12,600 known NEOs. Around 871 of these are asteroids with a diameter of one km or larger, and 1,581 have been classified as Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs)—defined as those that have the potential to make threateningly close approaches to Earth.

However, it is estimated that there could be a million NEOs that are not currently monitored. Although NASA has not detected any objects larger than one km that pose an impact hazard to Earth in the next 100 years, smaller asteroids that could pose a threat do pass near our planet.

Although some agencies are working on deflection methods that work within a response time of five to ten years, the team behind EADP saw the need to have a system in place that could effectively deflect or destroy an incoming asteroid with a short warning time of anything between five years and a few days. With events like the Chelyabinsk impact in Russia catching everyone by surprise, the push to implement such a plan seemed more vital than ever to the EADP team.

In 2014, Bong Wie, Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center (ADRC) at Iowa State University, USA, developed the HAIV concept with NASA funding.

Henrik Jacobsen, Project Manager and Chairman of EADP, explained the design to Sen. He said: "The HAIV is a space bus attached to a rocket, such as a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy. When in space, the HAIV will locate the asteroid and steer towards it. It is then a two-body system, where the first part will hit the surface and form a crater, and the second part, being more effective due to the crater, will then impact about 0.2 seconds later with a kinetic impactor. The kinetic impactor could then carry a NED (Nuclear Explosive Device), if we need that amount of energy, to explode and mitigate the asteroid."


Illustration showing the HAIV concept, consisting of an impactor and a nuclear device. Image credit: EADP

"The fact that a HAIV needs an NED means that it is politically sensitive for governmental agencies such as NASA and ESA to work on this type of mission," continued Jacobsen. "However, if we have a short warning time and an asteroid would be headed towards London or New York, a HAIV with an NED is the only solution that would work in order to save lives.

"In regard to the political sensitives on our website, Frans von der Dunk has made a report that states that, according to international law, it would be acceptable to use a nuclear payload on a HAIV to send towards an asteroid if it meant saving lives."

The crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo aims to raise $200,000 needed to design the blueprints for the vehicle and establish the timeline and costs to build and launch a test HAIV. Gifts based on the amount donated, ranging from astronaut ice cream to a private dinner with the EADP team, are being offered as incentive to back the project.

"We are also looking into other means of funding, such as philanthropists and businesses, but we perceive the protection of the whole world from asteroids as a global threat which should have everyone’s interest," said Jacobsen. "Crowdfunding platforms such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter are global platforms for 'the crowd', so crowdfunding is an excellent way of making this a global project for everyone."

Although there is nothing officially in place yet, international space agencies have been developing other asteroid-deflection techniques. A robotic spacecraft is being developed for NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), due for launch in 2020, that will use a technique called a "gravity tractor"—by entering into a specific "halo" orbit around the asteroid and picking up a large boulder up to 4m (13 feet) wide from the surface, the gravitational effects on the body can be manipulated enough to allow the ARM robotic spacecraft to slowly "pull" the asteroid in a desired direction.

NASA is also playing a part in a joint collaboration between ESA, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Observatoire de la Côte d´Azur (OCA), and John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), to develop the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission. The AIDA mission will demonstrate how to deflect an asteroid using the kinetic impactor method when binary asteroid 65803 Didymos (1996 GT) approaches close to Earth in October 2022.

You can find full details of the Emergency Asteroid Defence Project on the EADP website, and you can contribute money to the project via their crowdfunding page on Indiegogo.