UK scientists told to save world

UK defence and space experts have been ordered to draw up plans to save the world from asteroid Armageddon.
The European Space Agency awarded a £300,000 contract for them to work out how to deal with any space mountains that threaten to collide with the Earth.
The mainly British team will design a real-life space mission just like in the movie Deep Impact. It will be called Don Quijote – but instead of tilting at windmills, the spacecraft will deflect an asteroid instead.
An initial test mission will be flown to a space rock that does not threaten to hit us and it will involve two craft.
One, called Sancho, will orbit the target in great detail over several months. The second, called Hidalgo, will then slam into the asteroid at 22,500mph to knock it off course.
Sister ship Sancho will photograph the impact and check the damage and deflection caused by the missile’s impact.
Once the design is accepted, more money will be found to fund the building of the spacecraft and the mission itself.
The design order was placed with a consortium led by QinetiQ, the company that was spun out of the Ministry of Defence.
They will partner with space scientists at the Open University, Milton Keynes, and others including the Swedish Space Corporation and operations software experts SciSys.
Numerous asteroids are known with orbits that send them flying past the Earth. They are called Near Earth Objects.
Astronomers have still not ruled out an impact with a 300-yard-long space rock called Apophis in 2036.
An even bigger space rock – labelled 2004 VD17 – threatens to slam into our planet in May 2102, with a force of 10,000 megatons.
It is about 500 yards long and its impact would create a crater the size of a city.
Last year, Congress ordered Nasa to spend $20million a year on a major operation to protect Earth from asteroids.
They were instructed to focus on finding and tracking all space rocks 100 metres or more wide. They were also told to devise methods of deflecting any found on a collision course with Earth.

© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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