Space Force’s most dire job just got a little harder
The U.S. Space Force, if fully formed, will eventually be in charge of all U.S. space operations, doctrine, training, and leadership. It's least common mission is also one of the most threatening if they fail: stopping space threats like asteroids. Unfortunately for them, it turns out that asteroids are more resilient than scientists thought.
NASA currently tracks near-Earth objects but, unfortunately, even these maps fail to track all the potential threats to the planet since we haven't found many of them.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University applied a new computer model to asteroid collisions, specifically one where an asteroid with a 25-kilometer diameter slams into an asteroid with a 1-kilometer diameter. Older models expected that the larger asteroid would break apart on impact, but the new models—which take many more factors into account—show that asteroids are stronger than previously thought and would likely survive.
Both models agree that cracks would form in the target asteroid, and earlier models thought this would result in a large cluster of rocks loosely held together by gravity. But the newer models expect that the smaller asteroid would deposit too little energy for the cracks to completely break apart the larger asteroid.
So, if the Space Force needed to destroy an asteroid that threatened the Earth, they would need much more explosive or kinetic power.
A composite image of a comet. Space objects can contain large amounts of valuable minerals, but they also threaten to strike the Earth and destroy all life on the planet.
(European Space Agency)
"We used to believe that the larger the object, the more easily it would break, because bigger objects are more likely to have flaws. Our findings, however, show that asteroids are stronger than we used to think and require more energy to be completely shattered," said Charles El Mir, a Ph.D. graduate of Johns Hopkins University's Department of Mechanical Engineering.
So, if it's time to live out the plot of Armageddon, Spacemen need a few more nukes and at least one more Steve Buscemi. Luckily, Space Force will likely fall in on NASA's plans for asteroids, and those include deflection, where explosives, rockets, or even reflective paint can be used to change the course of an asteroid.
So, no need to destroy it, just make it hit Venus instead of Earth. The Venusians have it coming, anyway.
Asteroids: good for future miners, bad for current planets if we don't keep our eyes on the ball.
The study is good news for one group, though. Space miners could use explosives to send cracks through asteroids without completely destroying the object. Then they could mine along the faults they had created, allowing them to more quickly remove minerals from the surfaces and cores of the asteroids.
And getting space miners done with work and back to terra firma is good for everyone, since it's quite possible that Space Force will be in charge of rescues if things go wrong in a space mining operation.
Probably a good idea to be careful with the explosives, though. Maybe use space drones to blow the asteroid long before the miners arrive. No sequences where Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck fight over who will stand on the surface of the asteroid as it blows up.