As the world observes International Asteroid Day – established by the United for global awareness about asteroids – Airbus continues its leadership in a multinational European programme that could help humanity to protect itself from future impact hazards posed by these space objects.
Held annually on the 30 June anniversary of the largest asteroid impact in Earth’s recent history (the famed Tunguska Event of 1908), International Asteroid Day brings attention to the thousands of asteroids and comets – collectively termed near-Earth objects, or NEOs – that cross the Earth’s orbit.
Small NEOs regularly intersect with Earth, disintegrating as they travel through the planet’s atmosphere. If a large enough asteroid survives atmospheric entry to impact the surface, it can, depending on the size, cause catastrophic damage. Indeed, one such strike is thought to have been responsible for mass worldwide extinctions – including the dinosaurs.
Sixty-five million years ago, the dinosaurs had no space programme and thus no chance to prevent the huge asteroid impact. But we have one.
Dr. Albert Falke - Project manager and NEOshield 2 coordinator, Airbus
An Airbus team in Friedrichshafen, Germany serves as project coordinators for NEOShield-2, a collaborative programme formed by 11 European partners and funded by the European Union. NEOShield-2 began in March 2015 and builds on the experience and results gained from the original NEOShield project.
“Sixty-five million years ago, the dinosaurs had no space programme and thus no chance to prevent the huge asteroid impact,” said Dr. Albert Falke, Airbus’ project manager and NEOshield 2 coordinator. “But we have one, and we are able to build up the deflection capability in time.”
Researchers with NEOShield-2 focus their efforts on both astronomical observations of NEOs to improve understanding of their physical properties, and the guidance, navigation and control technologies necessary to manoeuvre a spacecraft into close proximity with asteroids and comets. The close-approach techniques would allow for the striking of such bodies with high-velocity kinetic impactor spacecraft to divert their paths, deflecting them away from Earth.
By refining astronomical observations of NEOs, Airbus researchers work to improve their understanding of the near-Earth objects’ physical properties. Their efforts are concentrated on smaller objects that are of the greatest interest for mitigation purposes, as well as identifying near-Earth objects suitable for a deflection demonstration.