Gravity Tractor Research By British Scientists
A gravity tractor is now in the planning stages at EADS Astrium, the aerospace subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company.
(Gravity tractor concept diagram)
Dr. Ralph Cordey, EADS Astrium's head of exploration and business, describes the project:
"We think this is a practical method for deflecting asteroids... The gravity tractor... you would hover a spacecraft very close to an asteroid and use the feeble force of gravity... like the force on your hand from several coins... If that acts over a sufficiently long period, maybe ten years, maybe fifteen years, then you could subtly deflect the asteroid from its path...
"What we're trying to do now is put some practical engineering around this idea... "
The idea of a gravity tractor was put forward in 2005 by Edward T. Lu and Stanley G. Love in 2005 in Nature.
The main problem with the idea is that you would need either a spaceship of considerable mass - or a less massive ship exerting its efforts over a much longer time. Why not just dispense with the mass?
That's the basic idea behind the (regrettably merely science fictional) tractor beam, as first described by 'Doc' Smith in his 1931 novel Space Hounds of IPC.
"We'll carry off the pieces of that ship, too, QuinceŚwe may be able to get a lot of pointers from it," and Brandon swung mighty tractor beams upon the severed halves of the Jovian vessel..."
(Read more about tractor beam)
Tractor beams are so handy, and the phrase is so descriptive, that it has been used over and over in science fiction. Pity poor Edmund Hamilton, who had the basic idea first, but called it the attractive ray in his 1928 classic Crashing Suns.
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