Monday, 07 Sep, 2009 Science

Latest Invention: Spacecraft That Would Divert Asteroids from Earth


The latest invention of British engineers is a "gravity tractor" spacecraft that would redirect any asteroid that possesses threat for our planet. Currently the engineers are working on the design of their latest invention for a space company based in Stevenage in England. The plan to create the "gravity tractor" spacecraft was announced weeks after astronomers identified a scar on Jupiter that is believed to have appeared as a result of an Earth-size asteroid collision.

Although the chances that Earth will be hit by a huge asteroid are rather small, researchers consider the collision is inevitable. Dr Ralph Cordey, who leads a team of scientists and is the head of exploration and business at EADS Astrium, a British space company, together with his colleagues managed to design a 10-ton spacecraft that is 100 feet long.

It is expected that the spacecraft will be launched as soon as astronomers identify an asteroid that heads towards Earth. The device would fly alongside the asteroid at about 160 feet away. The "gravity tractor" spacecraft will be able to divert an asteroid of up to 430 yards (393 meters) in diameter. Scientists consider that if the asteroid of such size hits the planet, the impact would discharge 100,000 times the energy of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.

Researchers' latest invention is designed with the goal of attracting asteroids towards itself using a small gravitation force on the cosmic object. Then the spacecraft would guide the asteroid away from the planet. Four low-energy ion thrusters would be used to help the spacecraft adjust its arrangement relative to the asteroid. The latter's gravitational pull would be quite enough to move the cosmic object into a less dangerous orbit. You can find more information about space and space projects here at - check the links at the bottom of the story.

It would take several years to move the asteroid away from Earth. The spacecraft will be able to change the trajectory of the asteroid by just a fraction of an inch in 15 years. However, researchers say this would be enough to divert the rock. Engineers would have to launch their latest invention 20 years prior to the expected collision, reports With the technologies available today it would be possible to create the gravity tractor rather quickly, says the design team. Up till now the team has been working out details of the mission. Before creating the spacecraft a number of international agreements would need to be signed.

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