IN 2031, CHINA WILL LAUNCH A FLEET OF ROCKETS TO REDIRECT THE ASTEROID BENNU

According to his research, 23 rockets would be required to escape a cataclysmic collision with Earth.

A group of experts from China’s National Space Science Center has proposed launching a fleet of rockets into space to try deflecting an asteroid away from Earth and thereby saving humanity in the event of a catastrophic event. The Chinese government paid for the research.

Its intended target is the asteroid Bennu, a 492-meter-wide rotating spinning-top substance whose orbit would carry it 7.5 million kilometers from Earth between 2175 and 2199.

Beyond this point, the space rock will be categorized as dangerous, with a 1 in 2,700 risk of colliding with Earth, according to scientists. If it occurred, it would have the potential to kill millions of people. In around a century, Bennu could have an impact on our world.

Li Mingtao and his colleagues at Beijing’s National Space Science Centre were entrusted with figuring out how China may act to prevent humanity from following in the footsteps of dinosaurs, whose asteroid was roughly 10 kilometers wide.

How to avoid mass destruction

Even if it isn’t soon, Chinese scientists believe it is a good time to use simulations to deflect potentially dangerous threats away from our planet. A large amount of kinetic energy would be required to alter the course of a massive asteroid.

They do not consider using nuclear weapons since, as they claim, the cure would be worse than the problem, because the rock could be split into several pieces, increasing the chance of reaching the Earth’s surface. There is an alternative that is more practical.

According to their computer models, the simultaneous impact of 23 ‘Long March 5’ rockets, each weighing 900 tons, might deflect the asteroid Bennu by 10,000 kilometers.

To reach its destination, the spaceship would have to travel for approximately three years. A deflector would be placed above each rocket to prevent the asteroid from being broken. Each rocket would “strike” the asteroid with a mild push, gently altering its direction and deflecting it enough to pass through our planet safely.

“Asteroid collisions represent a huge hazard to all life on Earth,” says Mingtao Li, lead author of the journal Icarus research. “And in ten years, a nuclear-weapon-free defense against huge asteroids will be possible.”

Is China capable of saving the world?

The probability of a 100-meter-wide asteroid colliding with the Earth in the next 100 years is now 1%, which is a significant amount to contemplate. Given the dimensions of an asteroid the size of Bennu (designated as a potentially dangerous space rock by NASA), that number drops much lower: to 0.1 percent.

¿And the United States?

The United States is also working on a similar proposal called HAMMER (Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response), which would fire more rockets to Bennu (between 34 and 53) and shorten the journey to barely two years. This idea, however, is significantly more expensive and would take much longer to put together.

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Gerardo Franco

Gerardo Franco

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Gerardo Franco is a science communicator, with studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology.