A decade ago, the Chelyabinsk asteroid hit the Earth over Russia's Ural region. The asteroid exploded above the city and created a shock wave that affected 1500 people and destroyed 7300 buildings. This served to create fear, but more than that, it sent all space agencies back to the drawing board to prepare contingency plans for such an event, which could have far worse consequences. The fear of an asteroid strike has always been there since dinosaurs were wiped off the face of the Earth millions of years ago. Therefore, to study such potential Earth-hitting asteroids and their impact, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space created two international organizations: the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) and the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG). These organizations thoroughly study the risk of an asteroid strike and the global response. Learn more about these organizations here.
How to study an asteroid strike and impact
IAWN and SMPAG completed 10 years of research in 2024. According to the ESA report, IAWN is led by NASA and specializes in observing and detecting hazardous asteroids that could damage space. IAWN will then estimate the time, location and potential impact of asteroids approaching Earth. The ESA said it then shared the information it collected with SMPAG and national governments “required for reactive space mission planning and for civil disaster preparedness and response agencies.”
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ESA leads SMPAG, which brings together space agencies from around the world to coordinate Earth's space-based response to threats. It further explores how space missions can study, deflect or destroy asteroids that are 50 meters wide. Now, the biggest debate among these bodies is about the asteroid “Apophis”, which is 350 meters wide and is said to fly by the Earth on 13 April 2029. However, this asteroid poses no threat, but an opportunity for organizations to study “a large asteroid close to a satellite mission”.
ESA will launch the Hera mission in October 2024 to gain further insights on NASA's successful DART mission demonstration of a kinetic impactor technique to repel asteroids. However, this can only be done after the asteroid is identified and the Minor Planet Center is focused on near-Earth objects.
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