Scientists in Russia have found a new way to use the country's surplus of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to protect Earth from a different kind of threat: falling meteorites and asteroids from space.
A report from the Russian news agency TASS revealed that a team of researchers led by Sabit Saitgarayev of the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau are planning to convert ICBMs into projectiles that can destroy near-earth objects (NEOs) that pose an imminent threat to the safety of the planet.
One of the ICBMs intended target are meteoroids, which are giant pieces of space rock from asteroids orbiting the sun. Portions of these asteroids break off and occasionally make their way toward Earth. While some of the space rocks are destroyed upon entering the atmosphere, others survive and hit the planet's surface at devastating forces.
One of the latest instances where a space rock impacted Earth was when a meteor hit the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15, 2013. The debris exploded about 18 miles above the surface of the planet, producing a shock wave that broke windows and injured 1,500 people living near the area of impact.
The Russian scientists wish to test the feasibility of their plan by setting an ICBM to destroy an asteroid designated as 99942 Apophis. According to Saitgarayev, the asteroid has been a cause of concern for a while since researchers believe it could pass "dangerously close" to the planet by 2036. Despite such reports, experts from NASA have already ruled out the likelihood of a possible impact.
Saitgarayev, however, continues to assert the benefits of their plan.
"Most rockets work on boiling fuel," Saitgarayev explained. "Their fueling begins 10 days before the launch and, therefore, they are unfit for destroying [meteoroids] similar to the Chelyabinsk meteorite in diameter, which are detected several hours before coming close to Earth. For this purpose, intercontinental ballistic missiles can be used, which requires their upgrade."
Saitgarayev added that the planned conversion of solid-fueled ICBMs into NEO-destroying arsenal requires the permission of government authorities. It will also cost the government millions of dollars to carry out.
It remains uncertain whether the project will ever be completed but work is already being done to have it jumpstarted.
Photo : Steve Jurvetson | Flickr