April 16, 2013

Defending the planet, new partner announced, and an upcoming special event

Defending the Planet

I’m at the 3rd International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference in Flagstaff, AZ this week.  The conference gathers experts from around the world to discuss our knowledge of asteroids, new efforts to characterize them, and of course discussion on ways to mitigate those that pose a threat to Earth.

It’s always an extremely fun and informative conference, as it focuses entirely on asteroids . . .  how often do you get to consider defending the Earth from space rocks?

Yesterday, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver opened the conference, describing NASA’s proposed asteroid retrieval mission, and the potential for private companies, like Planetary Resources, to contribute to the mission.

Lead scientists throughout the day added to our current knowledge of the near-Earth asteroid population. There are about 9 million asteroids the size that impacted Chelyabinsk. While about 95% of 1km+ asteroids have been found, less than 1% of the asteroids smaller than 100m have been found.

The current near Earth object discovery rate is about 1000 per year.  As of April 12, we have discovered 861 large (>1 km) NEOs, and 9,770 NEOs overall.  There was also much discussion on just how far the science has come in the last 20 years – before 1991 all asteroids were found with magic marker on photographic plates!

My favorite discussions were on the formation history and strength of asteroids.  New modeling is showing that rubble-pile asteroids are likely strengthened by the cohesive forces between the smallest grains in their size distributions.  This allows some asteroids to remain intact past the point when their spin might normally break them up, and also says that even some very fast spinning “monolith” asteroids could have a coating of asteroid regolith on them.  Truly exotic!

And of course, being the Planetary DEFENSE conference, you couldn’t get away without some initial discussions on potential ways to deflect asteroids.  One presenter explained how a 10-ton impact vehicle could deflect a 100 to 500 meter near Earth object.  There was also some discussion on the use of a nuclear blast near an asteroid to vaporize the surface and create a small thrust force to deflect it.

This was just the first day!  The discussion continues the rest of the week, and you can see the conference program here, follow the play-by-play on twitter or watch via the live stream as well.

Bechtel Partners with Planetary Resources for Space Initiative

We’re very excited today to announce that Bechtel has joined our core group of investors and will be a collaborative partner in helping achieve our long-term mission at Planetary Resources.  Bechtel is among the most respected engineering, project management, and construction companies in the world. You can read all the details in our full press release here.

Hang out with the Planetary Resources’ team on our one-year Anniversary

We announced Planetary Resources to the world nearly a year ago.  Join our team for a special Google Hangout on our one-year anniversary next Wednesday, April 24 at 11:00 a.m. PDT (18:00 UTC).  We’ll provide a brief year in review, current status on the development of the Arkyd series of spacecraft, and an outlook to the future of asteroid prospecting, exploration and mining!  Be sure to follow our Google+ page to get all the details on the event.

We’ll also be answering a few questions from you – feel free to ask them here, or send them via Google+ or Twitter on the day of the event.