Researchers at the Cambridge-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a system that could help identify the best type of mission for deflecting an incoming asteroid.
The “decision map” would take into account an asteroid’s mass and momentum, its proximity to a gravitational keyhole, and the amount of warning time that scientists have of an impending collision — all of which have degrees of uncertainty, which the researchers also factor in to identify the most successful mission for a given asteroid.
In a paper appearing this month in the journal Acta Astronautica, the researchers use their decision map to layout the type of mission that would likely have the most success in deflecting Apophis and Bennu, in various scenarios in which the asteroids may be headed toward a gravitational keyhole.
“People have mostly considered strategies of last-minute deflection when the asteroid has already passed through a keyhole and is heading toward a collision with Earth,” says Sung Wook Paek, lead author of the study and a former graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “I’m interested in preventing keyhole passage well before Earth impact. It’s like a preemptive strike, with less mess.” Paek’s co-authors at MIT are Olivier de Weck, Jeffrey Hoffman, Richard Binzel, and David Miller.