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India-born Shyam Bhaskaran to plan collision course to catch asteroid

With Nasa's asteroid-capture mission gathering steady momentum, the critical task of planning how to collide with one has fallen on Mumbai-born Shyam Bhaskaran of the space agency's jet propulsion laboratory at Pasadena in California.

A Nasa statement on Wednesday quotes Bhaskaran as saying: "If you want to see below the surface of an asteroid , there's no better way than smacking it hard. But it's not that easy. Hitting an asteroid with a spacecraft traveling at hypervelocity is like shooting an arrow at a target on a speeding race car." The term hypervelocity usually refers to something travelling at very high speed — two miles per second (11,000 km per hour) or above. Bhaskaran is a deep space navigator who had his early schooling in Mumbai.


"Most of the hypervelocity impact scenarios that I simulate have spacecraft/asteroid closure rates of around eight miles a second, 30,000 miles per hour (48,000km per hour)," Bhaskaran has stated.

Bhaskaran, who was a navigator on Deep Impact which collided with Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, says that not all hypervelocity impacts are created equal. "Impacting an asteroid presents slightly different challenges than impacting a comet," he said.

"Comets can have jets firing material into space, which can upset your imaging and guidance systems, while potential asteroid targets can be as small as 50 meters and have their own mini-moons orbiting them. Since they're small and dim, they can be harder to spot," he said.

Along with the size of the celestial body being targeted, Bhaskaran also has to take into account its orbit, targeting errors, how hard an impact the scientists want, and even the shape. "Asteroids hardly ever resemble perfect spheroids ," said Bhaskaran.

Source : Economic Times
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