Russia to spend billions on asteroid defense

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Moscow believes an operable national defense against threats from outer space can be built within 10 years’ time. The 500-kiloton explosion of a space bolide above the Urals region has sped-up allocation of some $2 billion to prevent future threats.

Russian scientists have presented a federal program designed to counteract space threats. Elaborated by the Institute of Astronomy at Russia’s Academy of Sciences and the Central Engineering Research Institute, Russia’s leading space industry enterprise, the program has already been approved by Roskosmos, the national space agency.

The program has nothing to do with Hollywood sci-fi movie scenarios; no lasers, annihilators or Bruce Willis drilling a huge peace of rock rushing towards Earth.

The system will consist of a network of robotic telescopes monitoring space around our planet, some of them delivered to orbit, others operating from the surface.

Destruction of an asteroid in emergency cases may be performed by a rocket with a powerful megaton-class thermonuclear warhead. If the threat is detected early, more advanced means of changing an asteroid’s orbit may be considered.

The program costing 58 billion rubles (over $1.9 billion) has already been handed over to the head of Russia’s defense industry, Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin who is expected to present it to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Lidia Rykhlova from the Institute of Astronomy (RAS) who presented the project, reported that Russia will need to modernize and fully computerize the 60 cm lens telescopes it already has. Several larger telescopes with 2 meter lens will have to be additionally installed.

Rykhlova announced that an analytical center will be created to collect the data from various sources and analyze it in real time mode.

Professor of the Moscow State University, head of the laboratory for space monitoring Vladimir Lipunov told Interfax news agency that it will take about two years to modernize all Russia’s existing nine telescopes with the diameter of the lens of 40 centimeters and unite them into one network. A network of larger telescopes across the globe could be ready in five years.

“It will cost a mere trifle. What [Russian billionaire] Roman Abramovich paid for Chelsea [football club] would cover all the costs of the project,” Lipunov said.

According to Forbes during the eight years of owning Chelsea Abramovich spent $1.3 billion on the football club.

Lipunov stressed that tracking and forecasting space threats is more real and efficient than engaging air defense systems to deal with meteorites in the atmosphere, as people could be evacuated from an impact zone in advance.

Asteroid threat is growing by the year

“There are a lot of asteroids orbitingclose to Earth and every year up to 1,000 more are being discovered,” Lidia Rykhlova said, specifying that three years ago the number of known asteroids passing close to our planet was about 7,000 and now their number has grown up to around 9,400.

Most of the relatively large asteroids, with a diameter of one kilometer and larger are already known.

“We know about 90 per cent of kilometer-class asteroids, their orbits are well known and predictable. As for the smaller 40-50 meter ones — we still have insufficient observation apparatus. The more we observe — the more of them we find,” Rykhlova acknowledged.

If the space object is discovered beforehand, at least a month prior to possible collision with Earth, there is time to find out its size and consider various measures of its elimination.

The execution of a really complicated operation will require at least a year, Rykhlova pointed out.

“Therefore our emergency aid is a rocket with a nuclear warhead,” she concluded.