26 February 2013

Its Time for a Real Policy on Asteroids!

"If you think the events of the Post-Valentine surprise of the Russian Meteor and 2012 DA14 near miss are one of a kind, think again. ”We know there are 500,000 to 1 million asteroids the size of DA14 or larger. So far we have found fewer than 1% of that “cosmic hailstorm” through which we sail in our yearly orbit around the Sun,” ...

But look: Meteors raining fire down on Russia injuring hundreds of people, and the closest pass of an asteroid ever forecast and recorded (2012 DA14) as a post-Valentine’s day surprise need to be a wake up call. The longer we go without a pro-active space policy on asteroids, the more we sacrifice international leadership, hold back our industry, and reduce our chances of being able to effectively deal with the threat."

Find the full article here:http://thespacereview.com/article/2248/1

16 February 2013

The Death Star is Dead; Long Live DE-("Life") Star!


Citizens for the Death Star, Take Heart: Recycle your plans!

Just last month, the Obama administration rejected calls from 34,435 of its citizens calling for the administration to "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016," stating that, by "focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense."

The administration rejected the proposal, partially on expense, but also based on a stated policy that the administration "does not support blowing up planets."

However, it is unclear if the administration pro-planetary rights position extends to asteroids and meteors that threaten Earth.

In light of the recent asteroid close pass, meteor strike over Russia, and Russian calls for a planetary defense system, perhaps these citizens should seek a compromise position.

Certainly, these  34,435 citizens could achieve most of their stated objectives of spurring job construction engineering and space exploration by pursuing Space-Based Solar Power (recommended by the Pentagon itself), building multi-kilometer across giant space stations which send power to Earth via Lasers or Microwaves.  Sure, the capability of lighting a planet through infinite green energy may not be as spectactular or perceived as "cool" as the capability to blow one up, but at least it is still perceived by Chinese space program pioneers such as Prof Wang Xiji as the key to global domination ("Whoever takes the lead in the development and utilization of clean and renewable energy and the space and aviation industry will be the world leader.")

Sure, you'd have to live with the fact that you are doing good instead of evil, but  at least you get the giant space station beaming gigawatts of energy.

Sure, you might not make as many enemies in the process, but at least you could join forces with most American citizens, who, when surveyed by and large favor constructing Space Solar Power Satellites to every other potential space mission (with asteroid defense being #2), and who have separately petitioned the administration to make SBSP part of our space program.

You'd have to scope your ambitions...instead of thousands of years to construct, you'd have to cope with the reality articulated by the International Academy of Astronautics IAA 2011 report that "As of 2010, the fundamental research to achieve technical feasibility for the SPS [solar-power satellites] was already accomplished. Whether it requires 5–10 years or 20–30 years to mature the technologies for economically viable SPS now depends more on the development of appropriate platform systems concepts and the availability of adequate budgets."

Sure, you'd have to bite a really big bullet, because an SBSP program is unfortunately NOT going to cost (errr..inject stimulus dollars) of $850,000 Trillion (Obama administration estimate)...since an individual multi-gigawatt Space Solar Power Satellite only cost in the tens of billions, but at least they would pay-back economically.  And of course it would only take about $10 billion and 10 years to get the first demonstration in operation, and the IAA estimated job creation in the multiple millions.

But if giant multi-gigawatt orbiting power monsters delivering infinite green energy to planet Earth is not a close enough compromise, consider this most recent proposal by the Scientists at UC Santa Barbara might just fit th

e bill! Philip M. Lubin, and Gary B. Hughes are proposing a spaced based laser system 10 kilometers in diameter (about 100 times the size of the ISS) that could deliver 1.4 megatons of energy per day to its target, taking care of a pesky little asteroid like

2012 DA14 in about an hour, or destroy asteroids 10 times larger in about a year, with evaporation starting at a distance as far away as the Sun. Sure, saving a planet isn't destroying one...but at least you get the giant space station and jobs!

From: http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/pa/display.aspx?pkey=2943


California Scientists Propose System to Vaporize Asteroids That Threaten Earth

February 14, 2013

Click for downloadable image Full description below. †

Click for downloadable image Full description below. ††

Click for downloadable image Full description below. †††

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– As an asteroid roughly half as large as a football field –– and with energy equal to a large hydrogen bomb –– readies for a fly-by of Earth on Friday, two California scientists are unveiling their proposal for a system that could eliminate a threat of this size in an hour. The same system could destroy asteroids 10 times larger than the one known as 2012 DA14 in about a year, with evaporation starting at a distance as far away as the Sun.

UC Santa Barbara physicist and professor Philip M. Lubin, and Gary B. Hughes, a researcher and professor from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, conceived DE-STAR, or Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids an exploRation, as a realistic means of mitigating potential threats posed to the Earth by asteroids and comets.

"We have to come to grips with discussing these issues in a logical and rational way," said Lubin, who began work on DE-STAR a year ago. "We need to be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with threats. Duck and cover is not an option. We can actually do something about it and it's credible to do something. So let's begin along this path. Let's start small and work our way up. There is no need to break the bank to start."

Described as a "directed energy orbital defense system," DE-STAR is designed to harness some of the power of the sun and convert it into a massive phased array of laser beams that can destroy, or evaporate, asteroids posing a potential threat to Earth. It is equally capable of changing an asteroid's orbit –– deflecting it away from Earth, or into the Sun –– and may also prove to be a valuable tool for assessing an asteroid's composition, enabling lucrative, rare-element mining. And it's entirely based on current essential technology.

"This system is not some far-out idea from Star Trek," Hughes said. "All the components of this system pretty much exist today. Maybe not quite at the scale that we'd need –– scaling up would be the challenge –– but the basic elements are all there and ready to go. We just need to put them into a larger system to be effective, and once the system is there, it can do so many things."

The same system has a number of other uses, including aiding in planetary exploration.

In developing the proposal, Lubin and Hughes calculated the requirements and possibilities for DE-STAR systems of several sizes, ranging from a desktop device to one measuring 10 kilometers, or six miles, in diameter. Larger systems were also considered. The larger the system, the greater its capabilities.

For instance, DE-STAR 2 –– at 100 meters in diameter, about the size of the International Space Station –– "could start nudging comets or asteroids out of their orbits," Hughes said. But DE-STAR 4 –– at 10 kilometers in diameter, about 100 times the size of the ISS –– could deliver 1.4 megatons of energy per day to its target, said Lubin, obliterating an asteroid 500 meters across in one year.

The speed of interplanetary travel –– far beyond what is possible with chemical propellant rockets used today –– could be increased with this sized system, according to Lubin. It could also power advanced ion drive systems for deep space travel, he said. Able to engage multiple targets and missions at once, DE-STAR 4 "could simultaneously evaporate an asteroid, determine the composition of another, and propel a spacecraft."

Larger still, DE-STAR 6 could enable interstellar travel by functioning as a massive, orbiting power source and propulsion system for spacecraft. It could propel a 10-ton spacecraft at near the speed of light, allowing interstellar exploration to become a reality without waiting for science fiction technology such as "warp drive" to come along, Lubin said.

"Our proposal assumes a combination of baseline technology –– where we are today –– and where we almost certainly will be in the future, without asking for any miracles," he explained. "We've really tried to temper this with a realistic view of what we can do, and we approached it from that point of view. It does require very careful attention to a number of details, and it does require a will to do so, but it does not require a miracle."

Recent and rapid developments in highly efficient conversion of electrical power to light allow such a scenario now, Lubin said, when just 20 years ago it would not have been realistic to consider.

"These are not just back-of-the-envelope numbers," Hughes concurred. "They are actually based on detailed analysis, through solid calculations, justifying what is possible. And it's all available under current theory and current technology.

"There are large asteroids and comets that cross the Earth's orbit, and some very dangerous ones going to hit the Earth eventually," he added. "Many have hit in the past and many will hit in the future. We should feel compelled to do something about the risk. Realistic solutions need to be considered, and this is definitely one of those."

Three UCSB undergraduate students are assisting Lubin and Hughes with the DE-STAR project: Johanna Bible and Jesse Bublitz, both from the College of Creative Studies, and chemistry major Joshua Arriola.



† Top image: Concept drawing of the DE-STAR system engaging both an asteroid for evaporation or composition analysis, and simultaneously propelling an interplanetary spacecraft.

Courtesy Philip M. Lubin

†† Middle image: This plot shows time to evaporate an Apophis-like asteroid versus diameter of the asteroid, versus several laser power levels. The baseline DE-STAR 4 system has approximately 100 gigawatts of laser power.

Courtesy Philip M. Lubin

††† Bottom image: This plot shows DE-STAR laser power and spot diameter versus DE-STAR array size. The DE-STAR system is modular and can be built up in sections each of which is immediately operational.

Courtesy Philip M. Lubin


So...the Improbable DOES happen!

What an amazing and unprecedented post-Valentine's day surprise!

In the same day that the close approach of 2012 DA14, a 50 meter "city killer" class asteroid, discovered less than one year ago, came zipping by within 27,700 km of the Earth, well inside the band of communications satellites in Geosynchronous orbit, and less than 1/13th the distance to the Moon, there Siberia Russia experienced its second major meteor strike in barely 100 years, and the first-ever meteor strike in the modern era to result in human injuries. Is it wishful thinking that such events might elevate Asteroids in the public discourse and lead to some proactive policymaking?

From: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/russian-city-hit-meteor-1200-people-hurt-18518828
1,200 People injured, 4,000 Buildings damaged, 1 million square feet of glass shattered
Meteor weighed more than Eiffel Tower

From: http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-wn-fg-chelyabinsk-meteor-lessons-20130216,0,4643856.story

"It is high time Russia should start heavily investing in building an advanced space danger monitoring and warning system and above that a system capable of destroying such super bombs falling on us from the skies."

The Chelyabinsk region has long been one of the most important military-industrial regions of Russia, where you "can’t drive a mile without passing a defense or a nuclear industry installation," the scientist said.

"We should be thankful to fate that this meteor in fact was a blessing in disguise and instead of destroying a significant part of Russia with quite dire consequences to the rest of the world, it sent us a clear warning signal by simply blowing up a bunch of windows and lightly injuring over 1,000 people," Lipunov said.

Bagrov spoke in favor of creating an early warning system of satellites monitoring space for signs of approaching danger instead of restoring a global land- and sea-based system. Lipunov argues that a space system would be more expensive and may take a decade to install -- and even then it would not be as reliable as an Earth-based system equipped with powerful telescopes.

Regional Gov. Mikhail Yurevich told reporters Saturday that the material damage to the region already exceeds $33 million. He said that 30% of about 100 square meters of broken windows had already been replaced.

The explosion damaged 3,000 residential houses, 34 hospitals and clinics and 360 schools and kindergartens, as well as several businesses. High school and university students received a day off Saturday. At least three hockey games were canceled because of damage to the local rink.
From: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/02/15/injuries-reported-after-meteorite-falls-in-russia-ural-mountains/
The meteor -- estimated to be about 10 tons and 49 feet wide -- entered the Earth's atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 mph and shattered into pieces about 18-32 miles above the ground, the Russian Academy of Sciences said in a statement. But even small asteroids pack a tremendous punch, explained Andrew Cheng of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. 
"It doesn’t take a very large object. A 10-meter size object already packs the same energy as a nuclear bomb," Cheng, who led a 2000-2001 mission for NASA to orbit and land on an asteroid, told FoxNews.com. 

"There was panic. People had no idea what was happening," said Sergey Hametov, a resident of Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million about 930 miles east of Moscow.

The meteor hit less than a day before Asteroid 2012 DA14 is to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid to the Earth for a rock of its size -- about 17,150 miles. But the European Space Agency said its experts had determined there was no connection -- just cosmic coincidence.
The meteor released several kilotons of energy above the region, the Russian science academy said. According to NASA, it was about 15 meters or 49 feet wide before it hit the atmosphere, about one-third the size of the passing asteroid.
Lessons had just started at Chelyabinsk schools when the meteor exploded, and officials said 258 schoolchildren were among those injured. Amateur video footage showed a teacher speaking to her class as a powerful shockwave hit the room.

The site of Friday's spectacular show is about 3,000 miles west of Tunguska, which in 1908 was the site of the largest recorded explosion of a space object plunging to Earth. That blast, attributed to a comet or asteroid fragment, is generally estimated to have been about 10 megatons; it leveled some 80 million trees.
Scientists believe that a far larger meteorite strike on what today is Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. According to that theory, the impact would have thrown up vast amounts of dust that blanketed the sky for decades and altered the climate on Earth.
The meteor could have produced much more serious problems. Chelyabinsk is an industrial town long held to be one of the world's most polluted areas, and the area around it hosts nuclear and chemical weapons disposal facilities.

Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the Russian government has underestimated potential risks of the region. He noted that the meteor struck only 60 miles from the Mayak nuclear storage and disposal facility, which holds dozens of tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
A chemical weapons disposal facility at Shchuchye also contains some 6,000 tons of nerve agents, including sarin and VX, about 14 percent of the chemical weapons that Russia is committed to destroy.

Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science, called the back-to-back celestial events an amazing display.
"This is indeed very rare and it is historic," he said on NASA TV. "These fireballs happen about once a day or so, but we just don't see them because many of them fall over the ocean or in remote areas."

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/02/15/injuries-reported-after-meteorite-falls-in-russia-ural-mountains/#ixzz2L5QFgH9U

04 February 2013

Feb. 15th an asteroid (2012 DA14) about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth only 17,200 miles above our planet's surface

From: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Record_Setting_Asteroid_Flyby_999.html

Record Setting Asteroid Flyby
by Dr. Tony Phillips for NASA Science News
Huntsville AL (SPX) Feb 01, 2013

Talk about a close shave. On Feb. 15th an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth only 17,200 miles above our planet's surface. There's no danger of a collision, but the space rock, designated 2012 DA14, has NASA's attention.

"This is a record-setting close approach," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at JPL. "Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we've never seen an object this big get so close to Earth."

Earth's neighborhood is littered with asteroids of all shapes and sizes, ranging from fragments smaller than beach balls to mountainous rocks many kilometers wide. Many of these objects hail from the asteroid belt, while others may be corpses of long-dead, burnt out comets. NASA's Near-Earth Object Program helps find and keep track of them, especially the ones that come close to our planet.

2012 DA14 is a fairly typical near-Earth asteroid. It measures some 50 meters wide, neither very large nor very small, and is probably made of stone, as opposed to metal or ice. Yeomans estimates that an asteroid like 2012 DA14 flies past Earth, on average, every 40 years, yet actually strikes our planet only every 1200 years or so.

The impact of a 50-meter asteroid is not cataclysmic--unless you happen to be underneath it. Yeomans points out that a similar-sized object formed the mile wide Meteor Crater in Arizona when it struck about 50,000 years ago. "That asteroid was made of iron," he says, "which made it an especially potent impactor." Also, in 1908, something about the size of 2012 DA14 exploded in the atmosphere above Siberia, leveling hundreds of square miles of forest. Researchers are still studying the "Tunguska Event" for clues to the impacting object.

"2012 DA14 will definitely not hit Earth," emphasizes Yeomans. "The orbit of the asteroid is known well enough to rule out an impact."

Even so, it will come interestingly close. NASA radars will be monitoring the space rock as it approaches Earth closer than many man-made satellites. Yeomans says the asteroid will thread the gap between low-Earth orbit, where the ISS and many Earth observation satellites are located, and the higher belt of geosynchronous satellites, which provide weather data and telecommunications.

"The odds of an impact with a satellite are extremely remote," he says. Almost nothing orbits where DA14 will pass the Earth.

NASA's Goldstone radar in the Mojave Desert is scheduled to ping 2012 DA14 almost every day from Feb. 16th through 20th. The echoes will not only pinpoint the orbit of the asteroid, allowing researchers to better predict future encounters, but also reveal physical characteristics such as size, spin, and reflectivity. A key outcome of the observing campaign will be a 3D radar map showing the space rock from all sides.

During the hours around closest approach, the asteroid will brighten until it resembles a star of 8th magnitude. Theoretically, that's an easy target for backyard telescopes. The problem, points out Yeomans, is speed. "The asteroid will be racing across the sky, moving almost a full degree (or twice the width of a full Moon) every minute. That's going to be hard to track." Only the most experienced amateur astronomers are likely to succeed.

Those who do might experience a tiny chill when they look at their images. That really was a close shave.

For more information about 2012 DA and other asteroids of interest, visit NASA's Near-Earth Object Program web site: http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov