Atlanta, October 30, 2003 Engineering consulting firm SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. (SEI) has won a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I grant to study new techniques to defend against threats to Earth posed by a Near-Earth Object (NEO). The study is entitled: "The League of Extraordinary Machines: A Rapid and Scalable Approach to Planetary Defense Against Asteroid Impactors." The primary objective of this systems concept is to apply small perturbations to NEOs in an attempt to divert them from their path toward Earth impact using hundreds or thousands of small, nearly identical spacecraft.
NIAC's charter is focused on grand, revolutionary concepts for architectures and systems. As such the institute provides an independent, open forum for the external analysis and definition of space and aeronautics advanced concepts that complement the advanced concepts activities conducted within the NASA Enterprise. NIAC is a part of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).
Out of more than 50 proposals received by NIAC for this solicitation round (CP 02-02), only 11 were accepted, including the one from SEI.
SEI will perform a feasibility analysis of a new approach to mitigate and protect against planetary impactor events. Unlike past proposals from other individuals or organizations, SEI proposes a rapid and scalable solution consisting of hundreds or thousands of small, nearly identical spacecraft that will intercept the target body and conduct mass driver/ejector operations to perturb the target body's trajectory to the point where an impact with Earth can be avoided.
Such Modular Asteroid Deflection Mission Ejector Node (MADMEN) spacecraft may be nuclear powered, be pre-deployed outside of low earth orbit (likely an Earth-Moon or Earth-Sun libration point), and be capable of using chemical propulsive boost to rapidly intercept an incoming target. Upon arrival at the target, each MADMEN spacecraft will begin to eject small amounts of mass from the asteroid that will, over time, have the effect to slightly change the heliocentric orbit of the target so that impact is avoided.
SEI's modular approach offers a number of unique mission advantages including: overall mission reliability through massive redundancy, faster production capability due to use of existing spacecraft bus production capability, efficiencies-of-scale of the MADMEN spacecraft during production, flexible and practical launch and transfer to an on-orbit pre-deployment location, a tailorable response depending on the size and nature of the incoming threat, and the production of only small particles of ejecta that will not independently survive Earth atmospheric entry.
"The NIAC is a vital organization for supporting concept studies of revolutionary aerospace systems concepts and we are proud to have been selected for a Phase 1 study," says Dr. John R. Olds, President and CEO of SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. (SEI) who is serving as the NIAC Fellow and Principal Investigator for SEI's study. "While the chance of a planetary impactor striking the Earth in the near future is remote, practical and scalable options for planetary defense are ideas worthy of some imaginative engineering thought. Hollywood's recent approaches to this problem are not credible. We believe our MADMEN concept has the modular and quick-response characteristics of a system that could eventually be implemented," he adds.
More information can be found at the SEI website: www.sei.aero.