The ion beam shepherd: A new concept for asteroid deflection

  • Bombardelli C
  • Urrutxua H
  • Merino M
 et al. 
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A novel slow push asteroid deflection strategy has been recently proposed in which an Earth threatening asteroid can be deflected by exploiting the momentum transmitted by a collimated beam of quasi-neutral plasma impinging against the asteroid surface. The beam can be generated with state-of-the art ion engines from a hovering spacecraft with no need for physical attachment or gravitational interaction with the celestial body. The spacecraft, placed at a distance of a few asteroid diameters, would need an ion thruster pointed at the asteroid surface as well as a second propulsion system to compensate for the ion engine reaction and keep the distance between the asteroid and the shepherd satellite constant throughout the deflection phase. A comparison in terms of required spacecraft mass per total imparted deflection impulse shows that the method outperforms the gravity tractor concept by more than one order of magnitude for asteroids up to about 200m diameter. The two methods would yield comparable performance for asteroids larger than about 2km.

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  • Claudio Bombardelli

  • Hodei Urrutxua

  • Mario Merino

  • Jesús Peláez

  • Eduardo Ahedo

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