Vitaly Lopota, head of the Russian space firm Energia RSC, has reportedly proposed developing a new rocket to deflect  Earth-approaching asteroids. Lopota’s statements were made in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta as reported by the Chinese news service xinhaunet.

According to Xinhaunet,  “Lopota said existing Russian rocket carriers with RD-171 engines could be redesigned to produce a rocket capable of destroying an asteroid.” The new rocket could be ready in 3-5 years.

Lapota implies that the RD-170 engine is the only one large enough to do the job. “‘We call them Tsar Engines, which no other country possesses,’ Lopota said, referring to Russian artifacts, the Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell, which were the world’s largest in their time.”

These statements make little sense. A variety of techniques have been proposed for asteroid mitigation. There is no agreement over which is best, in part due to our lack of detailed knowledge about the general population of Near Earth asteroids and in part due to technical uncertainties in the techniques themselves, none of which have actually been tested in space. More research and development is needed, but no expert has seriously suggested that the size of existing launch vehicles (or rocket engines) is a critical problem.

Lapota is apparently using planetary defense as a lever, hoping to shake loose government funding for a product Energia wishes sell, whether it is relevant to the problem or not. That is hardly surprising, given the desperate straights of Energia and other Russian space companies in recent years. Perhaps he’s learned from the example of US politicians who exhibit similar behavior in calling for development of the superheavy Space Launch System.

Written by Astro1 on November 9th, 2012 , Planetary Defense

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