Washington: Scientists have suggested that an intercept mission to blow apart dangerous Near-Earth Objects, such as asteroids, by nuking them may be a feasible option to save the planet.
Aeronautical engineer Alan Pitz and co-investigators at the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University said that the need of the hour is to develop an asteroid interceptor, which on short notice can be launched to sprint to an asteroid and blow it apart with a nuclear blast.
Pitz estimates the total development and flight cost at about USD 3 billion, `Discovery News` reported.
"An intercept mission with nuclear explosives is the only practical mitigation option against the most probable impact threat of NEOs with a short warning time (much less than 10 years)," said Pitz.
He proposes building a Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle (HAIV) that would disintegrate the asteroids.
The proposed three-ton HAIV would quickly climb up the Sun`s gravitational slope and onto an asteroid rendezvous.
A day before asteroid impact, the spacecraft can detect the target NEO and the terminal control subsystems on-board the HAIV would awaken.
Cameras and laser radars will home in on the primitive body. The images are used by the on-board flight computer to direct thrusters to guide the spacecraft to ground-zero.
Shortly before the impact, the piggyback HIAV spacecraft will separate with the impactor module taking the lead. It will then deploy a whisker-like 30-foot boom to touch the asteroid, Pitz estimates.
According to the proposal, an instant before the impactor crashes into the asteroid, the boom`s tactile sensor will send a signal to the trailing atom bomb vehicle to begin its detonation sequence.
The impactor will vaporise on contact. Seething hot plasma and debris would blowtorch the heat shield on the front of the trailing companion spacecraft. Using on-board cameras for guidance, the bomb will steer itself into the fresh crater.
The heat shield will deform and melt as it passes through the plasma and ejecta. It will burrow 15 feet into the roiling crater debris and the bomb will detonate with a shattering two-megaton yield, the report said.