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Proceedings Paper

Simulations of directed energy comet deflection
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Paper Abstract

Earth-crossing asteroids and comets pose a long-term hazard to life and property on Earth. Schemes to mitigate the impact threat have been studied extensively but tend to focus on asteroid diversion while neglecting the possibility of a comet threat. Such schemes often demand physically intercepting the target by spacecraft, a task feasible only for targets identified decades in advance in a restricted range of orbits. A threatening comet is unlikely to satisfy these criteria and so necessitates a fundamentally different approach for diversion. Comets are naturally perturbed from purely gravitational trajectories through solar heating of their surfaces which activates sublimation-driven jets. Artificial heating of a comet, such as by a high-powered laser array in Earth orbit, may supplement natural heating by the Sun to purposefully manipulate its path to avoid an impact. The effectiveness of any particular laser array for a given comet depends on the comet's heating response which varies dramatically depending on factors including nucleus size, orbit and dynamical history. These factors are incorporated into a numerical orbital model using established models of nongravitational perturbations to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of using high-powered laser arrays in Earth orbit or on the ground to deflect a variety of comets. Simulation results suggest that orbital arrays of 500m and 10GW operating for 10 min=d over 1 yr may be adequate for mitigating impacts by comets up to ~500m in diameter. Continuously operating ground-based arrays of 100m and 10GW may be similarly effective when appropriately located.

Paper Details

Date Published: 19 September 2016
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 9981, Planetary Defense and Space Environment Applications, 998108 (19 September 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2235711
Show Author Affiliations
Qicheng Zhang, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara (United States)
Philip M. Lubin, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara (United States)
Gary B. Hughes, California Polytechnic State Univ., San Luis Obispo (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 9981:
Planetary Defense and Space Environment Applications
Gary B. Hughes, Editor(s)

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