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One Year Later, Russian Meteor Strike Sparks Asteroid Deflection Talks

Chelyabinsk Meteor Soars
The Chelyabinsk meteor streaked through the sky in February, injuring hundreds, damaging buildings, and bringing attention to the Earth as a potential target for rocky space bodies. (Image credit: Copyright M. Ahmetvaleev)

A year after the Chelyabinsk meteor slammed into the atmosphere above Russia, the world's space agencies have a new plan to address asteroid threats — including a possible mission to move an asteroid.

The newly formed Space Mission Planning and Advisory Group (SMPAG, pronounced "same page") bills itself as Earth's first line of technological defense if an asteroid threatens. Before that ever happens, however, the coalition aims to create space missions to explore the possibility of moving asteroids around to prove potential technologies that could one day protect Earth.

"SMPAG will also develop and refine a set of reference missions that could be individually or cooperatively flown to intercept an asteroid," Detlef Koschny, an official in the European Space Agency's Space Situational Awareness Program office, said in a statement.

"These include precursor missions or test and evaluation missions, which we need to fly to prove technology before a real threat arises," added Koschny, who heads the near-Earth object segment of the office.

Asteroid impacts received renewed public attention after an estimated 10,000-ton meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013. The 55-foot (17 meters) object smashed windows and caused hundreds of injuries, scattering space rock bits across the region. The largest fragment recovered so far was about the size of a coffee table.

SMPAG — formed in 2013 out of the activities of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space — had its first meetings Feb. 6 and 7 at ESA's operations center in Darmstadt, Germany.

Once the group gets itself organized, it will coordinate its activities with the International Asteroid Warning Network. That network will helm the search for asteroids and other space objects that threaten the Earth, while SMPAG will focus on the space missions and technology needed to address the threat.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.

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