Russians Still Interested In Deflecting Asteroids With Missiles

News reports indicate that Russians are interested in testing upgrades to their intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).  According to this TASS news agency report, the upgrades are for the purpose of destroying or deflecting asteroids (H/T The Mary Sue and Foxtrot Alpha).  Whether or not you trust those intentions, scientists from the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau are looking to test these upgrades on the asteroid Apophis during its approach past Earth in 2036.

This does not come out of the blue.  Apophis has prompted talk and research into asteroid deflection since its discovery back in 2004.  The NEOShield projects coordinated by the European Union have included the Russians, who were tasked with research on asteroid deflection by nuclear explosions.

It is presumed that the test missiles would carry nuclear warheads, but that has not been confirmed.  Use of nuclear warheads raises some non-technical concerns.  In the past Russian officials have claimed there would be no nuclear explosions in their work, but times and people can change.  As there is currently a prohibition on nuclear explosions in space and debate over whether using nuclear explosions for this purpose is something that should be done, technical challenges are perhaps the least of the problems this test will have to face.

Michael Bay might be disappointed.  Both his movie Armageddon and the competing late-90s disaster from the skies film Deep Impact tried to avert collisions with the Earth by having astronauts make contact with the asteroid or comet before deflecting and/or destroying it with explosives.  The method the Russians want to test most closely resembles the plot of Meteor, which came out at the tail end of the 1970s disaster movie trend.


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