Planetary Society Offers $50,000 Prize for Asteroid Tagging Designs
San Francisco , CA, —Today at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, The Planetary Society announced the launch of their Apophis Mission Design Competition, which invites participants to submit designs for a mission to rendezvous with and “tag” a potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroid. Tagging may be necessary to track an asteroid accurately enough to determine whether it will impact Earth, and thus help facilitate the decision whether to mount a deflection mission to alter its orbit. The Planetary Society is offering $50,000 in prize money for the competition.
Apophis is an approximately 400 meter near-Earth object (NEO), which will come closer to Earth in 2029 than the orbit of our geostationary satellites. On that pass, the asteroid will be gravitationally perturbed to an unknown orbit, one that could cause it to hit Earth in 2036.
"While the odds are very slim that this particular asteroid will hit Earth in 30 years, they are not zero, and Apophis and other NEOs represent threats that need to be addressed," said Rusty Schweickart, Apollo astronaut, head of the Association for Space Explorers NEO committee.
Bruce Betts, The Planetary Society's Director of Projects said, "With this competition, we hope not only to generate creative thinking about tagging Apophis, but also to stimulate greater awareness of the broader near-Earth object threat."
Very precise tracking may be needed to determine the probability of a collision in 2036. Such precise tracking may require “tagging” the asteroid, perhaps with a beacon -- a transponder or reflector -- or some other method. Exactly how an asteroid could best be tagged is not yet known, nor is it obvious. “Learning how to do this is the point of the competition,” added Betts.
The Planetary Society is "betting" $50,000 that someone will devise an innovative solution to the problem. The prize money was contributed and competition made possible by Dan Geraci, a member of The Planetary Society Board of Directors, together with donations from Planetary Society members around the world. Geraci stated, “The time scale may be unknown, but the danger of a near-Earth object impact is very real. We need to spur the space community and indeed all people into thinking about technical solutions.”
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Competition Rules and Update: