Outer Space: In the face of the potential threat of an asteroid, the defenses are organized


placeIn the face of the potential threat of an asteroid, the defenses are organized

The United Nations International Legal Group for Planetary Defense is working on the best way to redirect an asteroid’s trajectory in the event of a threat to humanity. Interview with his manager.

NASA will lead the experimental DART mission in September, which aims to deflect an asteroid from its trajectory.


How would humanity react if a asteroid heading straight for land and putting him in immense danger? The United Nations International Legal Group for Planetary Defense is working on this question, led by French scientist Alissa Haddaji. His role is to “decide on the best possible scientific mission to move this forward asteroid», says the scientist, who also leads the Harvard & MIT Space Consortium, invited to the Fleurance Astronomy Festival (Gers) this summer. This reflection under the aegis of the UN takes place in parallel with NASA’s experimental DART missionwhose ship must hit an asteroid in late September to deviate from its trajectory.

What risks should planetary defenses address?

“Planetary defense is about knowing what to do in the event of an asteroid or comet threat. When we detect an object that is more than 50 meters in diameter and has a greater than 1% chance of impacting Earth, we activate the advisory group SMPAG (ndlr Space Mission Planning Advisory Group), which is managed by the Council’s scientific committee United was approved by Nations Space Affairs and is made up of space agencies from different countries. If the asteroid is more than 300 meters away, it’s called a continental impact, and if it’s more than a kilometer away, 25% of living species would be wiped out. So, by and large, if it’s 50 meters, we have a national risk,” counters French scientist Alissa Haddaji.

What methods are considered in the event of an asteroid threat?

“It’s definitely not ‘Armageddon’ to blow up the asteroid because creating more parts is undesirable. It would be possible, thanks to that impact, to ram and push it, which the European Space Agency’s (ESA) DART missions, NASA and Hera, will be testing very soon. If the asteroid is very big or you get very late, it would be possible to cause an explosion of an atomic charge next to the asteroid, melting part of the rock that would break off and push it to the other side by reaction.”

In what legal framework would such an intervention take place?

“The Outer Space Treaty says it’s forbidden to send a weapon into space. In addition, the Partial Test Ban Treaty prohibits any nuclear explosion. Should it emerge that a nuclear warhead would need to be deployed, the United Nations Security Council would have to temporarily override these rules by authorizing a derogation from this treaty. We then follow rules specific to the UN Security Council with 15 members, five possible vetoes. At least nine of the 15 members must agree without veto.

How would the decision be made?

“Decision schemes were created. The International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) group, which is responsible for asteroid detection and risk assessment, would involve the United Nations and the SMPAG group, as well as the politicians of the potentially affected country or region warn countries that may be affected. The decision will be made at the political level on the advice of SMPAG.”

Is outer space affected by current international tensions?

“Here we see the role of space. This is an area where essentially everyone needs everyone. This is one of its most valuable features. The fact that we have a wonderful 1967 Outer Space Treaty, adopted by 111 nations, stating that space belongs to nobody, that it’s for scientific freedom of exploration, makes it possible to find solutions, even if there is tension. The principle of the International Space Station, where all countries work together towards a common goal of understanding the universe, is inspiring. With the current international tensions, maybe something will change, at the moment we don’t know. But we are moving in an area in which knowledge guides and scientific experts have a say in decisions.


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