The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) released its recommendations for an international response to the threat of objects from space this week – five days after a large asteroid narrowly missed the Earth and a meteorite explosion caused significant damage in Chelyabinsk, Russia. The explosion of the 17-meter-long asteroid was 30 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to calculations by Peter Brown from Canada’s University of Western Ontario.
Apart from identifying existing gaps in the work of identifying near-Earth objects (NEOs) that may pose a threat to the planet, the UNOOSA wants to form an International Asteroid Warning Network as well as a space missions planning advisory group.
More UN involvement?
It is still too early to say whether the event in Chelyabinsk will increase international collaboration and lead to the formation of an organization to coordinate national space agencies. A meeting of the space agencies at Planetary Defense Conference in April will discuss the UN’s proposals and make its own recommendations, according to Nicolas Bobrinsky, head of the European Space Agency’s Space Situation Awareness (SSA) program.
“It would be extremely useful to have a forum where space agencies can meet under the forum and protection of the UN,” he told DW.
Alan Harris from the German Space Agency’s (DLR) also said the UN could help. “An international agreement, which recognizes the problem and supports the establishment of an organization […] which could coordinate government efforts is needed,” he said.
Both the ESA and the German Space Agency are doing extensive research on near-Earth objects, but they have different focuses. The ESA concentrates on asteroid detection and discovery, while the DLR works to find ways of deflecting asteroids that are on a collision course with Earth.
The DLR, along with its counterparts in the United States and Russia, believes the course of an asteroid can be changed by launching a space probe with a substantial mass into the space body. The probe could alter the asteroid’s velocity and thereby change its course, Harris said.
“The only uncertainty is that degree of deflection depends on the shape of the asteroid,” he added.
It will cost more than 100 million euros ($131 million) to pay for a spacecraft that can change the course of an asteroid. Harris, as well as other space experts, said he hopes increased awareness of the danger meteorites could pose to the Earth after last week’s explosion in Russia will improve the chances of raising the funds needed for the mission.
Should the program get off the ground, asteroids least 50 meters across will likely be deflected using a space probe. Anything smaller, like the asteroid in Chelyabinsk, will lead to evacuation of the projected point of impact. More than 1,000 people were injured when the meteorite exploded last Friday (15.02.2013).
Harris said scientists will carry out cost-benefit analyses to determine whether sending a probe makes sense. The meteorite in Chelyabinsk caused 25 million euros worth of damage, which would not have justified a mission worth more than 100 million euros, Harris said.
Many unanswered questions
There’s a good chance programs to detect and deal with asteroids will receive additional funding.
“The meteorite explosion has raised the awareness of the [dangerousness] of the phenomena among the population and the politicians,” the ESA’s Bobrinsky said, noting that they would get a sense of any changes when European ministers meet next year to discuss the agency’s 2014 budget.
Ministers will also have to confront a number of other questions, including a legal framework for how and when objects like asteroids and meteorites are addressed, who would pay for the evacuation efforts if a faulty projection is made, what would happens if an impact occurs despite having its course changed, and if a NEO is headed for a particular country, should other countries participate in that mission.
Harris from the German Space Agency said “any awareness by the public will bring pressure on politicians.”
Comment: Don’t get us wrong, we are all for “raising the awareness of the [dangerousness] of the phenomena among the population and the politicians.” The danger is real, and what ever happened in Chelyabinsk was just a small reminder of what may yet transpire. But, there are several factors that have to be considered. Factors that make us highly suspicious of the UN’s and other politicians’ intentions regarding the threat from space. As George Orwell’s quote goes: “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” And there is enough evidence to indicate, that for quite a while PTB’s agenda was to keep the reality of cosmic threat under a tight lid in order to maintain the illusion of control.
Consider the following information:
Objects apparently pass us by all the time and we don’t notice them until they’re here:
Have you heard about Dark Comets? Imagine trying to track one of those!
We think what it comes down to is the fact there is no comprehensive, global, civilian Near Earth Object monitoring or tracking system. Lots of programs have been floated over the decades; some take off, but most flop, usually because of a lack of funding. The space threat just wasn’t taken seriously enough. The renowned astrophysicist Victor Clube and others tried to warn them but our Dear Leaders didn’t see any profit in it. Instead, the scientific funding, research and technology was all funneled into sustaining the Cold War, and when that ended, the War on Terror. Perhaps it will change, but we are not holding our breath.