Military and aerospace (mil/aero) organizations are investing research, development, test & evaluation (RDT&E) efforts into planetary defense measures and technologies to protect us from rogue near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) that have the potential to end life as we know it.
Currently, our only active defense is observation (not much of a defense), but some mil/aero prime contractors are working on the U.S. Air Force Space Fence, a multi-billion-dollar project.
Some researchers of note are working on solutions that take a proactive role in removing space-borne killers from our path with solar-powered lasers.
Scientists from U.C. Santa Barbara and California Polytechnic (Cal Poly) State University are currently hard at work on the Directed Energy Solar Targeting of Asteroids and Exploration, or DE-STAR, program. The focus of the program is a system designed to use the sun’s solar energy to power an array of phased laser beams that could destroy or steer off course (away from Earth or even into the sun) any NEAs that pose a threat to Earth.
“This system is not some far-out idea from Star Trek,” Gary B. Hughes, a researcher and professor from Cal Poly, insists. “All the components of this system pretty much exist today. Maybe not quite at the scale that we’d need––scaling up would be the challenge––but the basic elements are all there and ready to go. We just need to put them into a larger system to be effective, and once the system is there, it can do so many things.”
Alternate uses for the system include as a portable power source for space travel. Instead of sometimes inefficient chemical propellants, the DE-STAR laser array might propel a 10-ton spacecraft at rates near the speed of light!
This geek applauds out-of-the-box thinking, and is excited about the prospect of cutting-edge aerospace solutions to current conundrums.