Solar powered lasers could zap asteroids

March 28th, 2012 - 1:04 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 28 (IANS) Engineers are developing an innovative laser-based technique to zap asteroids with greater probability of success. This could prevent asteroids from exploding on earth.

The technique hinges on a flotilla of smaller satellites simultaneously firing solar-powered lasers at an asteroid, overcoming difficulties linked with current methods relying on large unwieldy spacecraft.

Massimiliano Vasile, mechanical and aerospace engineer at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, who is heading the project, said: “The approach we are developing would involve sending small satellites, capable of flying in formation with the asteroid and firing their lasers targeting the asteroid at close range.

“The use of high power lasers in space for civil and commercial applications is in its infancy and one of the main challenges is to have high power, high efficiency and high beam quality all at the same time,” he said, according to a Strathclyde statement.

“The additional problem with asteroid deflection is that when the laser begins to break down the surface of the object, the plume of gas and debris impinges the spacecraft and contaminates the laser,” added Vasile.

“However, our lab tests have proven that the level of contamination is less than expected and the laser could continue to function for longer than anticipated,” concluded Vasile.

In 1908, a small asteroid 30 to 50 metres across exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, obliterating 2,000 sq km of vegetation. Even though the likelihood of a similar threat remains low, developing preventative measures cannot be overstressed.

Vasile added: “The Tunguska class of events is expected to occur within a period of a few centuries.” He is investigating how space-borne lasers could be used to lower the original orbit of the space debris and reduce congestion.

These findings were presented at the Planetary Society in UK.

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