The model has been created in response to the asteroid Apophis which scientists believe will collide with Earth in 2036, and was presented at a competition of NASA and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The initial plan would put the craft into space in 2020 where it will approach the asteroid and launch two penetrating devices. These will deliver equipment including a specially adapted camera, transmitter and antenna. Air bags will be used to safely deliver the equipment and also will be attached with solar panels to power the equipment.
The equipment will collect data on the location and composition of the asteroid and relay it back to Earth. If needed the spacecraft can again approach the asteroid in 2025 to divert the asteroid from its path using the gravitational pull of the spacecraft. The asteroid will pass the Earth in 2029 before returning in 2036 and the team aim to change the path of the asteroid during this pass.
According to Dr Alexander Kogan, who guided the students, the craft will use its ion thrusters to hover 200-300m from the asteroid for four months. Using the mass of the spacecraft, combined with the effect of Earths’ gravity, the craft will pull the asteroid out of its previous path.
‘The spacecraft is what will make the difference,’ said student Lior Avital. ‘It will divert the asteroid one kilometre and with the help of the Earth, in seven years - 7,000km.’
Alternatives such as blasting the asteroid with a nuclear bomb were also considered, but the group believed the danger posed by two large asteroids or many small ones would be much greater. Diverting the asteroid by connecting powerful motors to it was also ruled out as the solution was deemed too expensive and complicated.