Nuclear one-two punch to knock out dangerous asteroids

But unlike in the movie, the spacecraft under development — known as the Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle, or HAIV — would be unmanned. It would hit the space rock twice in quick succession, with the non-nuclear first blow blasting out a crater for the nuclear bomb to explode inside, thus magnifying its asteroid-shattering power.

“Using our proposed concept, we do have a practically viable solution — a cost-effective, economically viable, technically feasible solution,” study leader Bong Wie, of Iowa State University, said Wednesday at the 2012 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) meeting in Virginia.

“Our ultimate goal is to be able to develop about a $500 million flight demo mission within a 10-year timeframe,” Wie said.

The team’s current work involves analyzing the feasibility of nuking a small but still dangerous asteroid — one about 330 feet (100 m) wide — with little warning time. However, it wouldn’t be too difficult to scale up, Wie said.

“Once we develop technology to be used in this situation, we are ready to avoid any collision — with much larger size, with much longer warning time,” Wie said.

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