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White House Releases Strategy To Defend Against Killer Asteroids (vice.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On December 30, the White House quietly released its Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy, a 25-page document outlining the United States' plans in the event that a giant asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth. Among the priorities outlined by the strategy are improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, developing methods for deflecting asteroids, and developing interagency emergency procedures in the event of an NEO impact. Given the stakes, it's clear why NASA and the leading US defense and research agencies came together in January 2016 to form the Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN) working group to address the issues associated with killer asteroids. The DAMIEN group is behind the White House's new NEO strategy, and will be responsible for hashing out the specifics of the plan to save Earthlings from killer asteroids going forward. To assist in the search, the DAMIEN report calls for a space-based observatory dedicated to finding NEOs, which will work in cooperation with ground-based observatories. Since a telescope in space isn't limited by terrestrial weather conditions, it would greatly enhance Spaceguard's search capacity. The only plans currently underway for a space-based NEO telescope are being carried out by the non-profit B612 foundation whose Sentinel telescope was supposed to launch last December, but has been delayed due to difficulties securing the requisite $450 million in funding required for the project. NASA has also been considering the NEOCam, a space-based telescope that has received provisional funding for "detailed refinement." Unfortunately, during the latest round of budgeting for NASA's Discovery program, two other satellites were greenlit instead of NEOCam, but NASA said it would continue the asteroid-hunter's provisional funding, so there is still hope that NASA may go forward with a space-based NEO observatory in the future, especially in light of the recent White House strategy. In tandem, the report also recommends updating the capabilities of ground-based NEO observatories by endowing them with more powerful planetary radars and improved spectroscopy instruments (this would allow for more accurate determinations of the composition of an asteroid). But detection is only half the battle. In the event that an asteroid is found to be on an impact trajectory with Earth, NASA is also thinking about ways to deflect the killer asteroid. Some pretty far-out ideas have been proposed on this front, ranging from nukes in space to giant sun-powered lasers, but the most likely method is simply ramming into the asteroid to change its course. Finally, should all else fail, the report also considers what to do in an impact scenario.
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White House Releases Strategy To Defend Against Killer Asteroids

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  • by nsuccorso ( 41169 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @03:07AM (#53615449)
    Great, now the damned asteroids know how to evade our defenses! Brilliant!
    • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Friday January 06, 2017 @03:18AM (#53615483)

      Great, now the damned asteroids know how to evade our defenses! Brilliant!

      Don't worry, Trump knows more than you about this issue.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        He's got some buddies in construction, and he can't wait to allocate a bunch of budget to rebuilding the nation from scorched foundations up.

        Not *actually* rebuilding it, mind you.

        Just taking the money that would go towards doing so.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Trump's plan: Deport the illegal asteroids.

      • by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @08:33AM (#53616069)

        Great, now the damned asteroids know how to evade our defenses! Brilliant!

        Don't worry, Trump knows more than you about this issue.

        He'll make a space wall and make uranus pay.

      • Well, of course he does. He has Bruce Willis's and Ben Affleck's number ready just in case NASA finds something.

      • and a heckuva yuuuge border tax if they hit here. that'll fix it!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Killer asteroids are a Chinese conspiracy to make America weak, I know because my national security advisor and Russia Today co-host told me.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2017 @03:38AM (#53615527)

    OLD PLAN: Send a team of oil workers led by Bruce Willis into space with nukes, and wait until the last possible second before detonating the bombs.

    NEW PLAN: Build a space wall around Earth, and make the aliens pay for it.

  • Within the next 30 years, P(asteroid smashes Earth) << P(nuclear conflict)
    • That's not the way to do that though

      It's IF( P(Asteroid Smash)*Cost(Asteroid Smash) -Cost(Asteroid Defense)) >0 then Build_Defense(Asteroid)

      Nuclear conflict is harder as that's profitable for defense contractors and nobody really wants to stop it. This really screws up the cost benefit calcs

    • by ( 4475953 )

      Maybe, but that's hardly a reason for not being at least minimally prepared for both possibilities. And there is another classic, of course, to keep an eye on. A global deadly virus outbreak is probably the biggest threat among those three.

      • Amazing that /. doesn't filter out blank usernames ............
      • Whether the cause is an asteroid, nukes, or even a virus, the preparedness is mostly the same - be ready to provide medical care to a million people, have your lines of command and communication ready between leaders and to the public, etc.

        One popular drill in emergency preparedness is zombie apocalypse - not because zombies might actually happen, but because it's a generic scenario that exercises all aspects of response. Zombies are contagious, like any virus or bacterium, they are mobs, they're violent,

        • the preparedness is mostly the same - be ready to provide medical care to a million people, have your lines of command and communication ready between leaders and to the public, etc.

          What are you going to do about the other billion or several casualties? Oh yeah - just let them die. You can always breed more people using unskilled labour.

          One popular drill in emergency preparedness is zombie apocalypse [...] If you can handle hoardes of zombies you can handle anything,

          I think "scenario" is the word you're ook

      • A global deadly virus outbreak is probably the biggest threat among those three.

        Why restrict yourself to worying aout virus outbreaks. We're doing a pretty good job of reeding up lots of bacteria resistant to all presently produced families of antibiotics.

    • Possibly. Maybe we should still donate to https://www.indiegogo.com/proj... [indiegogo.com] just in case.
  • by BlueCoder ( 223005 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @03:48AM (#53615547)

    We could double or triple down by bringing multiple asteroids into orbit. First to mine for minerals. Second as a cheap scaffold for a space station. Third as an earth shield provided that the rockets used to bring it into orbit are powerful enough or have been upgraded so that it can be moved to the right location within 3 weeks. It can absorb energy from the impact and will probably have bombs perfectly set in place to self destruct just in case it's gets deflected at earth.

    Very good idea. Having half a dozen large asteroids in orbit along with the multiple uses will make this very practical.

    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @04:16AM (#53615611)

      We could double or triple down by bringing multiple asteroids into orbit. First to mine for minerals. Second as a cheap scaffold for a space station. Third as an earth shield provided that the rockets used to bring it into orbit are powerful enough or have been upgraded so that it can be moved to the right location within 3 weeks. It can absorb energy from the impact and will probably have bombs perfectly set in place to self destruct just in case it's gets deflected at earth.

      Very good idea. Having half a dozen large asteroids in orbit along with the multiple uses will make this very practical.

      So, all we have to do is build the worlds largest asteroid whistle? Guess I'm still a little fuzzy on that whole "bringing multiple asteroids into orbit" part, as if we'll just call them over to play like a dog. Good boy, Rocky! Now, stay.

    • by djinn6 ( 1868030 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @06:53AM (#53615901)
      I can't tell whether you're being sarcastic or you know nothing about asteroids. Hint: they are very very heavy. An 100 m diameter asteroid is 6,000,000 tons. The largest rocket we ever built, the Saturn V, ($1.1 billion per launch) can launch 50 tons of payload to an Earth escape orbit. Let's say that 50 tons is just a rocket engine (Isp 450 s) and fuel, and you attach it to the asteroid, then by turning on the rocket engine and burning all of the fuel, you can change the asteroid's velocity by 0.037 m/s. To bring the asteroid into the geosynchronous orbit, you will need to change its velocity by at least 2000 m/s, which means 10's of thousands of Saturn V's.

      Even if you target a small asteroid, it doesn't change the equation all that much until it's in the 500-ton range. In which case, why bother? Just launch a few Saturn V's full of rocks.
      • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @08:13AM (#53616019)

        It should be noted that we're not in a real hurry about getting an asteroid into Earth orbit. So ion drives (Isp a holy hell of a lot higher than 450 - we've already built them in the Isp 5000 range) would be fine for the purpose. Alternately, an Orion model would work - pop a few (dozen) small nukes off next to the rock...

        All that aside, this is just an example of the sort of thing that Presidents do to build a "legacy" - if we pay any attention to it, and in a hundred years we deflect a rock, it's all due to the foresight of Mr. Obama. If we ignore it (as we probably should at this point. Maybe in 20-50 years we should start thinking slightly more seriously about the subject), and a rock smacks us, people can point and say "if only we had listened to Mr. Obama!!! He would have saved us!!!!"

        • It should be noted that we're not in a real hurry about getting an asteroid into Earth orbit. So ion drives (Isp a holy hell of a lot higher than 450 - we've already built them in the Isp 5000 range) would be fine for the purpose.

          You only use ion drives when you're really not in a hurry - if you have, say, a millennia or three in which to accomplish the project.

      • by skids ( 119237 )

        The trick is to nudge it slightly in just the right way to use more massive bodies to cause it eventually (after much ping-ponging) to come coasting into an orbital trajectory. Which, given we are dealing with an extinction-sized chunk of rock, would have to be done very, very carefully with lots of safeguards.

        • It's not coming in on an orbital trajectory. If we're precise and patient enough, we can get it coming in to a spot in low Earth orbit (although I'd be nervous about missing this by a couple hundred miles in the wrong direction), but it would be going much too fast to be in orbit. It would slingshot around Earth and head off somewhere else.

    • Well, it's an idea.

      I guess you're talking about putting the "shield" objects into something approaching a lunar orbit and shepherding them into the "Trojan" points (Lagrangian points L3, L4, and L5). Given a 27-ish day (Lunar-ish) orbit, that would leave you with around 9-10 days to get the astrometric measurements done and light the rockets. That sounds rather tight to me - you'll need some seriously fuck-off rocketry to provide the necessary power.

      You'd need at least a couple of shields in a polar-ish

  • What if America can't stop the asteroid from hitting the earth, but can stop it from hitting the United States (or close strategic ally)? Other countries may want to invest in their versions of this.

    • Be a shame if it landed on the Middle East, huh?

    • by ( 4475953 )

      Very easy to solve, like all trolley problems. Send it to the region where the smallest number of people will die from the impact.

      • Incorrect. The solution to the trolley problem is multi-track drifting. [onsizzle.com]

    • What if America can't stop the asteroid from hitting the earth, but can stop it from hitting the United States (or close strategic ally)? Other countries may want to invest in their versions of this.

      To divert it back to you guys?

    • By the time you get up to multi-kilometre impactors (rocky asteroid or icy comet - totally irrelevant), the "close strategic ally who would be taken out would be any one which shared a planet with the impact point. It really doesn't matter where the impact falls - the fall-back of ejecta is going to be a global problem of "death from the skies" magnitude for all continents and oceans.

      Don't be upset about not getting this message at gut level. I didn't understand it until I was examining a 30cm thick bed of

  • Build a wall and make the aliens pay for it!

  • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @05:29AM (#53615727)

    Paul Ryan will hold a press release where he announces that the republicans are against the plan, that this is too massive an expansion of government and the presidential overreach by trying to impose his will on asteroids without any constitutional right to look up at the sky.

    In 20 days Trump will either scrap the plan, or keep it, if he keeps it - Ryan will pretend it was his idea all along.

  • how is this issued by the "always-be-prepared-dept".

    Nonsense like this should be issued by the "rearranging-the-deckchairs-on-the-titanic-dept"

    • by whodunit ( 2851793 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @07:35AM (#53615967)

      Detection is the major hurdle. If we can detect an earth-crossing asteroid in time, deflecting it is actually pretty easy. The earlier the detection, the less delta-v is needed to make it miss. For the same reason a slight twitch of a rifle makes it miss a target at 100 yards it would still easily hit at 10 yards.

      We've sent multiple spacecraft to asteroids in the past - we can hit millimeter wide targets with one-second accuracy halfway across the solar system with our probes and do it all the time. Plus, the US government has squirreled away a few 20 megaton nukes just for this job. We can nudge a rock easy. But FINDING them is hard.

    • by fisted ( 2295862 )

      The new /. overlords have pretty much given up (or never understood) the dept. thing anyway. It used to be funny/witty stuff, now it's just something more or less appropriate without any wit.

  • Prediction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Friday January 06, 2017 @08:07AM (#53616007)

    We'll discover a massive killer asteroid and spend a couple of weeks arguing about how to deal with it. Russia will act on its own and launch a couple of nukes which will break it into three smaller killer asteroids. The governments will spend the remaining time at the UN trying to punish Russia for sending the nukes but they keep using their veto.

    With hours left for humanity a large two dimensional hollow triangle appears above the planet, shoots the asteroids until they are harmless dust particles, and then pops out of existence.

    • With hours left for humanity a large two dimensional hollow triangle appears above the planet, shoots the asteroids until they are harmless dust particles, and then pops out of existence.

      Sounds familiar. [youtube.com]

  • The summary says

    but the most likely method is simply ramming into the asteroid to change its course.

    If you have a 200m asteroid that's the same as 60 times 50m asteroids, each enough to wipe out a large city. You generally don't want to break up an asteroid and turn it into giant buckshot, with pieces covering a wide area. Also in order to change momentum considerably you'd need to find another small asteroid to pull into a collision course because a missile is not going to do anything. So I checked the li

    • Also in order to change momentum considerably you'd need to find another small asteroid to pull into a collision course because a missile is not going to do anything.

      For Science reasons, the earlier one expends delta-v in an orbit, the more drastic a shift of trajectory is produced down the orbital track for a given amount of delta-v (as every player of Kerbal Space Program knows.) As you say, rocks that are smaller, or far away (preferably both) can be deflected with very small forces applied over very long times - the Gravity tractors, solar sails, ion thrusters - hell, you could even spray-paint the rock to take advantage of the Yarkovsky effect. [wikipedia.org]

      If the rock is big an

    • See how loosely packed an asteroid is for instance.

      If you have some evidence to suggest that two random asteroids (or comets) have similar mechanical properties, that'd make some nice reading. So far, we have two data points and a lot of modelling.

      I can imagine trying to find out how strong an asteroid is before starting to mess around with it.

      You're sounding dangerously like you want to apply science to the question. This is not a politicially acceptable behaviour these days.

      And since the asteroid is usua

      • If you have some evidence to suggest that two random asteroids (or comets) have similar mechanical properties, that'd make some nice reading. So far, we have two data points and a lot of modelling.

        I don't know what you mean. I mentioned a second asteroid because I was trying to find an external large source of momentum (but good luck with that) to cause a change of direction with one large blast. Spacecraft don't have a lot of momentum. And neither do nukes actually but the ablative effect of the heat may g

        • To the best of my knowledge, we've measured the mechanical properties of one asteroid with an impactor (Deep Impact) [wikipedia.org] ; made a glancing contact with Hayabusa, but no attempt to measure below-surface properties. And the modelling of surface of comet 67P/Churyumovâ"Gerasimenko was so successful that all three anchoring systems for the Philae lander failed, leaving it to perform a hop-step-and-jump landing.

          When you have a measurement, you have a measurement ; when you have two measurements, you have a dis

          • I see, that's not much. I thought meteorites would have told us something but I can see now that by their nature they would tend to be the strongest parts left of any larger structure.

            On the other hand, and I'm just thinking here, using gravity's pull is attractive(wink) because you need to know little of the large scale structure of the asteroid - and statistics wouldn't be very useful for that anyway. You'd like some info on local structures though in order to mine enough material to increase the mass , a

            • I can see now that by their nature they would tend to be the strongest parts left of any larger structure.

              Yep - they fall apart at the weak points, leaving the intact things as being the strongest parts of the structure.

              Ever seen a really good high-speed car crash - Formula 1, or that oval ring race track they have somewhere in America? Ever seen the engine block or brake discs broken apart? I didn't think so.

              On the other hand, and I'm just thinking here, using gravity's pull is attractive(wink) because yo

  • I call it "extreme asteroid vetting"
  • Here's [sunysb.edu] what would happen if they found one on an actual collision course, administration be damned. This is a very good story, but if you're in a hurry, find: "brusquely". I doubt that Bruce Willis could actually do that much [imdb.com].

    The premise is different obviously, but the human panic and destruction would be similar. Nature would provide much more fireworks than humans though. Maybe those SHTF bunkers might be useful after all!

    Oh, and if you're in the dark already and can't read: here [youtu.be].
    • Maybe those SHTF bunkers might be useful after all!

      Only well-hidden secret ones. The rest are just goody boxes.

    • by Doke ( 23992 )

      Thank you. That's an amazing story. I thought I had read everything by Asimov, but I somehow missed that one.

      • >> (Nightfall is) an amazing story. I thought I had read everything by Asimov, but I somehow missed that one.

        Happy you found it, but how did you miss that story if you've read so much else by Asimov?
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightfall_(Asimov_novelette_and_novel)
        "In 1968, the Science Fiction Writers of America voted Nightfall the best science-fiction short story written prior to the 1965 establishment of the Nebula Awards..."
        and some would say it launched Asimov's full time career.
  • by umghhh ( 965931 )
    has something to do with making Trump a better person or?
  • Here's the text of the impact strategy:

    1. Bend over.

    2. Put head between knees.

    3. Kiss ass goodbye.

  • Somebody better tell them about Helios, or we'll have to be reviving dead people from the future to prevent it.

  • WTF is going on here!?
  • The republicans are gearing up to appeal the Affordable Care act, appoint a couple of conservative SCOTUS's, undo all Obama's environmental, labor, and trade relation edicts... effectively erasing the entire Obama Presidency - and with mere days left of his presidency, spitting out a NEO CYA plan is of primary importance... there's an effective use of tax money...
  • Assuming we ever get a serious budget to deploy instruments capable of spotting these things.
    Assuming we even know about it with more than a couple of days notice.
    Assuming we even have tech capable of moving such a large mass sufficiently to alter its trajectory at all.
    Assuming we have said tech already deployed and standing by in launch capable or ready to fire status.

    Without all of the above, the strategy is this:

    Die. Horribly.

    Either as vaporized matter that becomes part of the ejecta cloud, or a short

  • Haven't they seen any asteroid movies ... ever?!?!? Nukes won't work.
  • 1. Sit down
    2. Bring knees to chest
    3. Place head between knees
    4. Kiss ass goodbye

    Why does that take 25 pages?

  • If you read the 25-page summary looking for hard details on what would happen were an asteroid impact to be inevitable, you might be disappointed. In that case, I would recommend Ben H. Winters' The Last Policeman trilogy. It covers the work of a detective in the months prior to a meteor impact that's presumed to be civilization-ending.

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