Emergency Asteroid Defence Project needs funding for its research into spaceships that can ‘deflect or disperse’ asteroids and comets.
Deflecting asteroids before they smash into the earth and kill hundreds of millions of people? That’s what Bruce Willis is for, surely? But now there’s an alternative strategy being touted by a body called the Emergency Asteroid Defence Project (EADP).
The Danish non-governmental organisation is trying to raise $200k on crowdfunding website Indiegogo to continue its research into hypervelocity asteroid intercept vehicles (HAIVs) designed to “deflect or disperse asteroids and comets with only a few days’ warning”.
EADP is offering badges, shoulder patches, bumper stickers and even “space cream sandwiches” to people who pledge money in the campaign, although rewards for backers who stump up more cash will include 3D printing files of its HAIV design, a chunk of asteroid or a ride in a rocket car.
In its crowdfunding pitch, EADP claims that it is aiming to step in where Nasa and other government agencies have failed to find a “definitive solution” to the threat posed by asteroids:
“This global crowdfunding campaign, the first ever for active asteroid defence, will fund a design feasibility study for the development, construction and in-space testing of HAIV asteroid defence spacecrafts, to be followed by the production of several HAIVs that will be ready for use in case of emergency.”
The crowdfunding page certainly doesn’t hold back on the scary stories about potential asteroid impacts, citing the 2013 asteroid crash in Russian city Chelyabinsk “exploding with 30 times more energy than the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima” and causing widespread damage.
The campaign claims there is hard science behind its ambitions, citing its partnership with the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University as proof that its plan for HAIVs has a realistic chance of success.
“The HAIV is a two-body spacecraft capable of striking an asteroid with a one-two punch. The fore body, or Leader, first hits the asteroid with a kinetic impact, making a crater in it. The aft body, or Follower, then delivers an NED (nuclear explosive device) into the crater to break up the asteroid into small harmless pieces, eliminating the threat.
This combination double-impact strategy requires only 1/20th the explosive force that would be necessary to shatter an asteroid with a direct nuclear impact.
Scepticism may still be a challenge for EADP’s campaign, with Indiegogo having faced scrutiny in the last year over the science behind some of its most prominent technology crowdfunding campaigns – Healbe, Ritot, Nanoplug, Anonabox, and TellSpec being a few examples.
Caution about grand scientific claims on crowdfunding sites may be one reason why only 22 people have backed EADP’s asteroid defence project in its first 17 hours, at the time of writing
Nasa has also turned to the crowd, but in a more practical way. In 2014, the agency launched a series of developer contests under the banner of Asteroid Data Hunter, challenging developers to help it improve the technology for identifying asteroids using images from ground-based telescopes.
“If a 30-metre asteroid were to hit in the wrong place at the wrong time, it could wipe out an entire city,” said Nasa’s Jason Kessler at the time.
“The problem is there are about a million out there that go down to about the size of 30 metres. The likelihood of something hitting us in the future is pretty guaranteed.”