Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, is planning to place an automated tracking beacon on the asteroid 99942 Apophis, according to a report in Russia Today.

Apophis is a 270-meter asteroid named after the ancient Egyptian god of darkness (and Stargate villain). Apophis was discovered in 2004. Initial calculations showed that it had a 1:223 chance of hitting Earth in 2029, although that estimate was later reduced. There is still sufficient uncertainty that some observers would like additional data.

In 2008, the Planetary Society, Spaceworks Engineering, and SpaceDev proposed a radio-beacon mission called Foresight to rendezvous with Apophis. No funding was forthcoming, however.

The article quotes Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin announcing the plan during a solar-system exploration conference at the Space Research Institute in Moscow. Popovkin said the mission would not be launched until after 2020, however. This casts some doubt on the story, given the recent tendency of Roscosmos to announce long-range plans that never receive any serious funding.

The announcement is significant in one way, however: It marks the first time a government agency has announced a deep-space mission specifically for purposes of planetary defense rather than pure science. Space activists in the US have tried to get NASA and the Congress to take a greater interest in planetary defense, with mixed results. NASA has funded some paper studies and telescope work, but no missions have been announced.

In addition to the planetary-defense mission, Popovkin announced a new lunar mission, Luna Glob, scheduled for late 2015. Luna Glob would include both an orbiter and a sample-return probe. The probe would return regolith to Earth where it would be studied to determine the feasibility of water extraction.

Written by Astro1 on October 8th, 2012 , Planetary Defense

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