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
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace