An artist’s rendering of the asteroid Apophis. Credit: ESA

Deflecting Incoming Asteroids with Paintballs

by NANCY ATKINSON on OCTOBER 26, 2012

What would be a way to deflect asteroid Apophis if it gets a little too close for comfort in 2029 or 2036? Pew-pew it with 5 tons of white paintballs. Not only would the multiple mini impacts bump the asteroid off course, but the white paint would cover the surface and reflect more sunlight, and over time, the bouncing of photons off its surface could create enough of a force to push the asteroid off its course.

That’s the idea of the winning entry in this year’s Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition, sponsored by the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council. Sung Wook Paek, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says if timed just right, pellets full of paint powder, launched in two rounds from a spacecraft at relatively close distance, would cover the front and back of an asteroid, more than doubling its reflectivity, or albedo. The initial force from the pellets would bump an asteroid off course; over time, the sun’s photons would deflect the asteroid even more.

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