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A giant asteroid named Apophis has a one in 45,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2036. If it did hit the earth it could destroy a city or a region. A slate of new proposals for addressing the asteroid menace was presented today at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

One of the Lifeboat Foundation projects is an Asteroid Shield and the issues and points discussed are in direct alignment with Lifeboat. The specific detection and deflection projects are in the Lifeboat Asteroid Shield project.

Edward Lu of NASA has proposed “gravitational tractor” is a spacecraft—up to 20 tons (18 metric tons)—that it could divert an asteroid’s path just by thrusting its engines in a specific direction while in the asteroid’s vicinity.

Scientists also described two massive new survey-telescope projects to detect would-be killer asteroids.

One, dubbed Pan-STARRS, is slated to begin operation later this year. The project will use an array of four 6-foot-wide (1.8-meter-wide) telescopes in Hawaii to scan the skies.

The other program, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile, will use a giant 27.5-foot-wide (8.4-meter-wide) telescope to search for killer asteroids. This telescope is scheduled for completion sometime between 2010 and 2015.

David Morrison, an astronomer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said that “the rate of discoveries is going to ramp up. We’re going to see discoveries being made at 50 to 100 times the current rate.”

“You can expect asteroids like Apophis [to be found] every month.”

Schweickart, the former astronaut, thinks the United Nations needs to draft a treaty detailing standardized international measures that will be carried out in response to any asteroid threat.

His group, the Association of Space Explorers, has started building a team of scientists, risk specialists, and policymakers to draft such a treaty, which will be submitted to the UN for consideration in 2009.

The New Scientist also has an article about how exploding robots could be sent to determine the composition of Near Earth Asteroids. This would be relevant in developing a proper Asteroid shield. A current project is the Lifeboat AsteroidShield

An illustration from Ball Aerospace and New Scientist.

The Ball Aerospace proposal of many small probes seems cost efficient and worthy of being advocated by the Lifeboat Foundation.

The New Scientist discusses a recent study that advocates using of an ion beam generator on the moon to allow the use of far smaller rockets to move from the moon to other locations in space. The ion beam generator would need several hundred megawatts of electrical power from either a large solar cell array or nuclear power.

I have discussed the need on my website to make gigawatts of power on the moon and in orbit in order to begin serious development and colonization efforts.

An alternative to ion beams would be magbeam, a plasma based approach for accelerating spaceships

The Lifeboat Foundation supports space habitats and Asteroid shields

The beam approaches all require large power sources. The fastest way to achieve this would be to build a lightweight nuclear power source on the earth and launch it into a high orbit (a lagrange point) or the moon.

The power could also be used to power mining and industrial machinery on the moon which has uranium and thorium and the raw materials to make more nuclear reactors. Containment and waste issues on the moon would be less of an issue until colonization happened in a big way. The colonization is better place in rotating structures in orbit, so the moon could be a power and material source for primarily orbital colonization.

Large scale structures for solar power and for space stations could be made with mostly existing or near term technology using magnetically inflated cables Using superconducting wire a lightweight structure could be launched that would unpack from an existing rocket and then expand to be 1 kilometers in diameter or more.

The main points are large scale space architecture is possible in the near term. Large power sources are needed and can be built. We can create viable space habitats with large viable populations properly engineering the technology that we have now. This would be superior to the lunar program that NASA has proposed which lacks the scale necessary to establish viable Lifeboat colonies.