NASA plans nuclear-armed HAMMER to save Earth from asteroid

James Marshall
March 13, 2018

Aptly called HAMMER (Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response), the new spacecraft would either collide with an incoming asteroid to change its course away from Earth, or blow it up with a nuclear weapon, technology weblog ExtremeTech wrote.

Scientists and engineers with the US government have drawn up plans for a spacecraft that could knock big, incoming space rocks off course via blunt-force impact or blow them to bits with a nuclear warhead, BuzzFeed News reported.

According to Tech Times, the USA space agency made a decision to begin development of the probe in case the village-sized Bennu asteroid, which was discovered in 1999, starts on a collision course with Earth.

The researchers will present their proposal at a conference in Japan this coming May.

Each HAMMER spacecraft would weigh about 8.8 tons (8 metric tons).

The asteroid's size and mass must be taken into consideration, along with the amount of time available before it hits Earth.

"If the asteroid is small enough, and we detect it early enough, we can do it with the impactor", physicist David Dearborn from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told BuzzFeed News. To neutralize, or at least mitigate, such threats, a HAMMER would have to be outfitted with a nuke, the study team stressed.

If the event of an asteroid being spotted heading towards Earth, Nasa, in partnership with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), plan to employ one of two tactics to prevent an impact, Futurism reports.

The team has devised a proposal around a potential impact with the 1,600-foot-wide asteroid Bennu, which is now the destination for NASA's Osiris-Rex sample return mission.

Bennu is also the best-studied asteroid of all the known NEOs, the researchers note. Not at all accidentally, this asteroid is the destination of the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission launched in 2016 with the aim of picking up and bringing back samples of his rocks. It's unclear how much a HAMMER spacecraft would cost, if one ever gets built (which is certainly no guarantee, given that it's a concept vehicle at this stage).

OSIRIS-REx is an $800 million mission.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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