Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Non Profit to study "gravity tractor"

While Griff and his Bush Administration cronies dust off their tie-dye shirts, smoke a bowl and try to relive NASA's Apollo golden years with their mission back to the Moon, it's good to know someone's paying attention to the Asteroid threat." Who is the "someone" he mentions? That's Rusty Schweickart who is heading up the B612 Foundation. The non-profit is kicking $50,000 to a group of experts at Jet Propulsion Labs to study the "gravity tractor" method of deflecting Earth crossing objects or more accurately objects that are about to hit Earth.

The gravity tractor method is brilliant in its simplicity. Blowing up these objects is not an option. The only thing you change with that method is the difference of getting hit with a rifle bullet or a shotgun blast. Other methods rely on mounting engines on the objects. But this requires that you balance the engines exactly or fire the engines only when they are aligned properly. Also there are the size of the engines to consider. With our rocket tech at present, it would be like an ant pushing the QE2. So what makes the Gravity Tractor so attractive? Well in space you don't have to overcome friction only enertia. Also, no matter how big the mass differential, one mass will always atract another. So this is where the brilliant part kicks in. The idea is to build a fairly massive space craft. It could be build out of Lunar material or other small asteroids or whatever. It doesn't have to be unrealisticly huge, just as big as possible. The idea is to park this craft close to an incoming object. The masses will attract and what the tractor does is to keep the object at a constant distance with rockets or whatever. Its not mounted to the object at all. So the asteroid is allowed to spin and do whatever, but its never allowed to touch the tractor. Ever so slowly its pulled off its trajectory that would impact Earth. The real trick is that it has to be done early in its orbit. Because the attraction forces are light, it will take time to move the really massive objects. But once detected, setting the tractor up is the "easy" part.

<LiveScience.com via IO9>

Image: B612 Foundation

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