WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Chinese researchers are proposing sending 20 of the country’s largest rockets to space to try deflecting an asteroid that may collide with Earth.
- China has been sending rockets to space since 2016.
- NASA is sending a rocket to space between late 2020 and early 2021 to alter the trajectory of a small asteroid.
Chinese researchers are proposing sending more than 20 rockets to space to practice deflecting a sizable asteroid that may collide with Earth.
The idea is similar to the U.S’ mission to launch a robotic spacecraft between late 2021 to early 2022 to intercept two asteroids that are close to Earth.
The NASA spacecraft, which will arrive in space a year after its launch, will try to change the smaller asteroid’s trajectory by crash-landing on it. It will be the first-ever attempt of humanity to alter the course of a celestial body.
In a simulation by China’s National Space Science Center, researchers found that simultaneously hitting a large asteroid with 23 Long March 5 rockets could deflect its course by a distance of 1.4 times the Earth’s radius.
The researchers based their calculations on Bennu, an asteroid as wide as the Empire State Building orbiting the sun, which is as wide as the Empire State Building. Bennu belongs to a class of rocks that can potentially cause regional or continental damage. Asteroids spanning more than 1 km can cause global damage.
The researchers cited a recent study published in Icarus, a journal on planetary science.
China is relying on its Long March 5 rockets to achieve its near-term space ambitions, including delivering space station modules and launching explorations to the Moon and Mars. China has launched six Long March 5 since 2016. Last May, the remnants of the last rocket they launched reentered the atmosphere, causing some safety concerns.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast said China’s proposal is a rather nice concept. He told Reuters, “By increasing the mass hitting the asteroid, simple physics should ensure a much greater effect.” However, he added that the operation needs to be studied in greater detail.
Professor Gareth Collins at Imperial College London says the possibility of an asteroid the size of Bennu colliding with Earth is ten times more likely than that of a 100-meter-wide asteroid striking the Earth in the next century.
According to scientists, deflecting an asteroid’s path poses a lower risk than blasting it with nuclear explosives because the latter may create smaller fragments to still collide with Earth.