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Laser Bees: A Way to Deflect Dangerous Asteroids

What do we do if an asteroid is found to be on a collision course with Earth? At this point, the answer is not clear, so Planetary Society members and supporters in 2010 started funding new technologies that could protect Earth from a potentially dangerous space rock.

We worked with a team at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow in Scotland to study a new technique which uses concentrated light to gently move an asteroid—a project we called "Mirror Bees." Mirror Bees uses mirrors on several spacecraft swarming around an asteroid to focus sunlight onto a spot on the asteroid. As part of the initial Mirror Bees project, researchers found that lasers are more effective than mirrors and can be used from greater distances. So, the Mirror Bees project became "Laser Bees."

Laser Bees Spacecraft Concept

Laser Bees Spacecraft Concept
Artist’s conception of Laser Bees spacecraft swarming around a dangerous asteroid (or in this case, it uses an actual image from Deep Impact of Comet Tempel 1 to represent the threatening object).

Like Mirror Bees, Laser Bees involves a swarm of small spacecraft. Each carries a powerful laser that can be focused onto a tiny spot on the asteroid, vaporizing the rock and metal, and creating a jet plume of super-heated gases and debris. The asteroid would become the fuel for its own rocket, and slowly, the asteroid would move into a new trajectory.

The Planetary Society funded a series of laboratory experiments designed to refine the technology. With the support of our members, we funded equipment, supplies, and a graduate student dedicated to working on the experiments. Through these types of studies, as well as additional theoretical research, we can devise a rapid, effective, and safe plan to protect Earth from dangerous asteroids.

Research results

Bill Nye and people
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