Countering Asteroid Impacts
06 February 2014

An artist’s rendition of a massive collision between two rocky planets
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With a mandate from the UN, space agencies from around the world will establish a high-level group to help coordinate global efforts in case an asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth.

For the first time, national space agencies from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa will establish an expert group targeting to get the world’s space-faring countries on the ‘same page’ when it comes to saving our planet from a hazardous asteroid.

Its task is to coordinate knowhow and capabilities for space missions countering asteroids that potentially threat our planet.
Of the more than 600,000 numbered and designated asteroids, over 10,000 are classified as near-Earth objects (NEOs), as their paths bring them relatively close to Earth’s orbit.

A dramatic example of an asteroid impact took place on 15 February 2013, when a previously unknown asteroid, estimated to be 17–20 m across and over 10,000 tonnes in mass, penetrated the atmosphere at 66,000 km/h, and exploded about 23 km above Chelyabinsk, Russia, releasing more than 20 times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb. The resulting shock wave damaged thousands of buildings, and injured about 1,500 people. This was one of the largest known cosmic objects to have impacted Earth, since the 1908 Tunguska event, a huge air burst caused by an asteroid or comet, which destroyed a forest area of Siberia.

The Space Mission Planning and Advisory Group (SMPAG – pronounced ‘same page’) was established by Action Team 14, a technical forum with a mandate from the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) to develop a strategy on how to tackle a potential asteroid impact risk. It will coordinate the technological expertise of agencies to recommend specific efforts related to asteroid threats, including research, impact mitigation measures and space missions targeting to divert the paths of threatening asteroids.

The first meeting will be hosted by ESA, from 6 to 7 February, at its operations center in Darmstadt, Germany. Officials from 13 space agencies, seven governments and the UN will share knowledge and devise a work plan for the coming two years.

ESA Website

Aymen Mohamed Ibrahem
Senior Astronomy Specilaist

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