MADMEN Robot Swarm To Handle Incoming Asteroids?

SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. has completed a preliminary study for NASA in planetary defense against asteroid impactors - Modular Asteroid Deflection Mission Ejector Node (MADMEN) robots. MADMEN are autonomous swarming mass-drivers that attach themselves to the side of an asteroid, drilling mass out of the asteroid, and then accelerating it so as to give the asteroid a little push out of its path to Earth. Little pushes add up, and if you use more MADMEN, the process works faster.

(From SpaceWorks Engineering)

Since asteroids tend to rotate on their axes, a swarm of robots can be used. The MADMEN would land on different faces, and time their pushes to act in the right direction as the asteroid spins. The mass-driver extends directly away from the surface; as a piece of drilled-out asteroid is pushed away into space, it pushes against the asteroid. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

(From A League of Extraordinary Machines)

(From A League of Extraordinary Machines)

Each MADMEN robot is independently controlled and nuclear powered. The proposal is to stockpile a set of them in Low Earth Orbit so they can be called upon to intercept an incoming target.

SF fans may recall Misfit, an early (1939) Robert Heinlein short story about moving asteroids. The method used is not clear; it appears to involve explosions that slowly push an asteroid into a useful path (to be used for a space station). Or perhaps you already read about it in another story earlier this week - Proposal To Move An Asteroid.

You can read their (very well-done) program overview at The League of Extraordinary Machines: A Rapid and Scalable Approach to Planetary Defense Against Asteroid Impactors. Additional pictures can be found at the SpaceWorks gallery. Thanks to Asteroid Eaters: Robots to Hunt Space Rocks for the story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/20/2004)

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