Some 5.4 million miles from Earth, the asteroid Bennu hurtles through space at 63,000 mph. As it makes its way around the sun, it passes Earth every six years. But, on September 21st, 2135, this village-size asteroid has a 1 in 2700 chance of hitting us.
Fear not though, as a team of scientists have developed a spacecraft capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to any incoming asteroid. Dubbed the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response (HAMMER) spacecraft, it’s the result of a collaboration between the Nuclear Security Administration, NASA, and two Energy Department labs. While it will deliver a nuclear device to large asteroids in an effort to deflect them, it can also slam its 8.8-ton hull (dubbed the ‘impactor’) into smaller asteroids.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, David Dearborn of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said “if the asteroid is small enough, and we detect it early enough, we can do it with the impactor. The impactor is not as flexible as the nuclear option when we really want to change the speed of the body in a hurry.”
This HAMMER design was actually called for in a 2010 National Research Council report, which warned about the dangers of undetected asteroids and their potential impact on human civilization. NASA currently tracks 73 asteroids that range from the size of houses to the size of stadiums, and each has a very small chance of hitting Earth within the next century. For these asteroids, the use of the ‘impactor’ would be enough to change their course well in advance. However, for larger asteroids that aren’t tracked and appear with little warning, the nuclear option would be necessary.
As to whether any of HAMMER spacecraft are actually produced is anyone’s guess, as they’re bound to be expensive. Though more complicated, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will cost the agency roughly $800 million. Though it’s meant to take and return samples of Bennu to Earth, building and launching a HAMMER spacecraft won’t be that much cheaper. Hopefully, we build one before it’s too late though, otherwise we’re gonna have to send Bruce Willis and the Armageddon crew up there…
Images: NASA, Touchstone Pictures,
Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Valhalla Motion Pictures
Source: BuzzFeed News