NASA is preparing to outfit asteroids with robot powered guidance systems in an effort to save the Earth from an Armageddon style killer space rock.
The project, Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata (RAMA), aims to use a series of simple robotic processes to turn space rocks into basic flying spacecraft that can be used as a planetary defense system.
Once complete, these roboticized space rocks can be slammed into killer asteroids to prevent them from slamming into the Earth, James Dunn, co-founder of Made in Space, a space-manufacturing company told the Daily Mail.
“Upon completion, the asteroid will be a programmed mechanical automata carrying out a given mission objective.”
After colliding with the killer asteroid, the robotized space rocks would be parked in a safe location or set on a course to fly safely out of the solar system.
NASA scientists are worried mankind isn’t doing enough to protect the Earth from a massive extinction event caused by a killer asteroid like the one that killed the dinosaurs. So far, the space agency is only able to track about 10 percent of the asteroids near Earth meaning 90 percent of potentially planet-killing space rocks go unidentified.
Russia has begun work on its own planetary defense system that involves shooting repurposed Cold War era ballistic missiles at near-Earth asteroids, but NASA has its own ideas.
The Planetary Defense Coordination Office, established earlier this year, is charged with coordinating ongoing efforts to protect the Earth from hazardous space rocks that could end life as we know it.
The creation of robotic asteroids, RAMA, is part of that program as are 13 other projects funded through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The winners of the scientific contest are each given $100,000 for nine months to work on their concept’s feasibility before moving on to Phase II. If they succeed, the project designers will be given another $500,000 and two years development time.
Along with robot powered asteroids, this year NASA chose to fund an ultra thin spacecraft that could wrap around space debris and transport it away from Earth. There’s also a robotic lander designed to study the inside of icy moons, a probe capable of landing on Venus, and micro organisms that could land on Mars and 3D print electronic devices.
The projects are all part of NASA’s continuing mission to protect the Earth from deadly killer asteroids. As part of that project, the space agency repurposed a hibernating space telescope in 2014 to search for near-Earth asteroids. Dubbed NEOWISE, the spacecraft has already identified158,000 asteroids, and it discovers another 1,500 every year, according to the NASA website.
“When WISE rolled off the assembly line, it was like a shiny new car with all the latest technology. Now it’s like that first car you get out of school — more vintage than new and with a lot of miles on the odometer.”
Now, NASA is developing a robotic spacecraft designed to fly out to visit a nearby asteroid, capture it, and bring it back to Earth so astronauts can explore it sometime in the 2020s.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will help the space agency gain the knowledge and experience necessary to successfully complete a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
The mission will demonstrate the same technology NASA will use later to create roboticized asteroids designed to crash into killer space rocks and save the Earth from destruction.
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[Photo by Pat Rawlings/Getty Images]