back to article Research into deflecting potentially world-destroying asteroids is apparently not a 'national priority' for the UK

The European Space Agency (ESA) has let people know where €129.4m of work for its Hera mission will go. The UK is, unsurprisingly, not on the list. Hera, named for the Greek goddess of marriage, will follow NASA's Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) spacecraft to a rendezvous with the Didymos pair of Near-Earth asteroids. …

  1. spold Silver badge

    What could possibly go wrong?


    The hope is that the mission will demonstrate asteroid redirection techniques


    See! See! We moved it! ......Oh ****!!!

  2. heyrick Silver badge

    regarding asteroid defence as not a national priority

    We're already screwed. So really, one could say that Brexit would have been fine if it wasn't for [ remainers | the EU | the French | COVID | a bloody great lump of rock from outer space ] (delete as applicable)

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: regarding asteroid defence as not a national priority

      Asteroids and extinction sized meteors will be defeated by the immigration paperwork and the Britishness test after the end of this year so hopefully they will avoid the UK entirely.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: regarding asteroid defence as not a national priority

        People, it's a good thing the Brits aren't interested.

        Looking at the British Government's performance on Covid and Brexit etc, I would be deeply concerned if they had responsibility for anything at all in a project to defend the Earth from an asteroid impact.

        You'd only want to give them stuff that you wanted royally arsed up. Although I suspect they would even manage to arse that up.

  3. John Doe 12

    This Makes Sense

    After all what could you do anyway if you found one. Not to mention that most of them are only discovered when they are hours away or even already gone by. This feels a lot like Homer buying that volcano insurance in Springfield :-)

    1. m4r35n357

      Re: This Makes Sense

      People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

      1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

        Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

        Nevertheless, taking a few steps along the road to learning about how such a thing might be possible in future is not such a terrible idea.

        1. m4r35n357

          Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

          It will _never_ be possible. Just do the numbers . . . .

          1. m4r35n357

            Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

            Obviously a couple of people taking Star Trek too literally . . .

            1. Wellyboot Silver badge

              Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

              Here are some numbers.

              Falcon Heavy - 63,000kg to LEO @ $150m

              1 launch per month for 10 year = 7500 tonnes at $18bn (ish, bulk saving not applied)

              With a 7500 tonne mass limit I think we could come up with a solution for deflecting quite a large asteroid.

              1. m4r35n357

                Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

                I think LEO might be leaving things a bit late . . .

          2. Filippo Silver badge

            Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

            Some asteroids are well-known, mapped and tracked. We could conceivably flag them as dangerous several orbits in advance of a possible collision. Years, decades even. Throw enough money at the problem, and we could probably manage to stick a multi-ton ion engine on it, and have it run continuously for, say, ten years. I can think of a few futuristic-but-not-implausible-for-the-near-future tech advances that could improve on this further.

            My guts tell me that this should be enough to nudge a dangerous asteroid out of the way, provided that it's well-known and not too large, but in all honesty I can't be bothered to run the math now... sorry about that.

            1. MrDamage Silver badge

              Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

              Yeah, Bruce Willis is getting on a bit, so we need a backup plan.

          3. Anonymous Coward

            Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

            It will _never_ be possible. Just do the numbers . . . .

            People who have done the numbers have concluded that collisions can be averted given sufficient warning, although it is more doubtful if the asteroid is ~10km or larger. The strategy is to deflect it to both miss the planet by a few Earth radii and to not enter a gravitational resonance region that means it will collide on a later pass (called a "keyhole").

            One way is to speed it up on its descent towards perihelion - speeding up is less energetic than slowing it down. Ten years out, a velocity change of about 3.5 mm/s is needed.

            Nuclear fireball icon, because that's one of the proposed ways of generating a lot of impulse for an achievable launch weight.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

              1. Anonymous Coward

                Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

                "speeding up is less energetic than slowing it down"

                Well, this is obviously false. A 2kg object going at 1m/s has 1J of kinetic energy. To slow it by 1m/s requires removing 1J. To speed it up by 1m/s requires 3J, because the same object at 2m/s has 4J of kinetic energy.

                My "speed it up on its descent towards perihelion" was the explanation. An object travelling in an elliptic orbit speeds up as it falls towards perihelion and slows down as it rises to aphelion. It is travelling at its fastest at perihelion and then starts slowing down as it starts to rise again. In classical mechanics, it is trading potential energy for kinetic energy as it falls, and kinetic energy for potential energy as it rises in the orbit.

                Hence, if you displace an object in its orbit towards its perihelion then it will increase in speed because some of its gravitational potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, irrespective of any additional energy you have given it. Consequently for an object travelling in an elliptic orbit, it takes less energy to speed it up than to slow it down.

                The effect of the impulse you provide will be both to displace the object, which will have that effect, and to add (in this case) energy from the orbit and so modify its path slightly.

                1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

                  Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

                  Sunlight could be our friend here:


                  If (admittedly a big if) we can find it early enough we could put reflective sheets on one side of the rotating body to alter the orbit using sunlight, which would then heat different ties of the asteroid differently. Of course we'd nee a great deal of reflective material and some way of tethering it to the surface.

                  OR we could use the reflective material to reflect the sun's rays onto one side of the asteroid, so it gets hotter, which might also work. we cannot 'stop' an asteroid, but, as has been stated, changing its orbit by a small amount might be enough to save life on Earth.

          4. Anonymous Coward

            Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

            It will _never_ be possible. Just do the numbers

            I did the numbers. If we can intercept an object 0.5AU away (which is certainly plausible) we need to deflect it by 0.002 degrees to change it from Earth-impacting to Earth-skimming. This is slightly simplified: the proper calculation might end up worse, say by an order of magnitude (it will be less), so say 0.02 degrees.

            Yes, we can stop asteroids hitting Earth: we may not be able to stop donosaur-killer sized ones, we can certainly stop merely civilization-ending ones. We can very definitely stop country-killers.

            1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

              Re: People. We can't stop an asteroid, ok? We just can't. Deal with it ;)

              Perhaps we need a Kerbal scenario to test all this out :-)

              (Yes, I know Kerbal spaciness is easier than real spaciness).

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Little Mouse Silver badge

        Re: This Makes Sense

        Stopping one would be pretty cool though. Imagine it - just sitting there, not moving at all, as we scorch past each year, giving it the finger.

  4. Sceptic Tank

    Can't Bruce Willis help?

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      As a bit of fun, take a look at IMDB and see how many of his films you have actually heard of.

  5. Claverhouse Silver badge

    Again: Unction & Conceit

    A UK Space Agency spokesperson said: "The UK made a record investment in European Space Agency programmes in November 2019, including £80m on space safety and security for missions on space weather and space debris. Our investment decisions are driven by our national priorities and commitment to delivering value for money."


    Just like the US Customs wanker grabbing earbuds the other day here: the second sentence could just as well be left off completely.

    Even the prior sentence is full of smug boast. Is there some universal directive for American and British politicians and functionaries to always interpose self-congratulation and self-satisfaction into the simplest of announcements ?


    S'like how now one is demanded to use self-laudatory phrasing discussing oneself on CVs etc., whereas in a more normal state people who spoke well of themselves were shunned. This is getting a serious problem and makes one feel one's living in the Soviet State.




    EDIT: add ref for the US Wanker:

  6. illiad

    as EUROPE (That includes UK) takes only 6.7% of the world, surely the bigger nations have more to worry about!!

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Works both ways. Russia got hit with one that would of wiped out Greater London and hardly anyone noticed.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, but how do you get your anti-asteroid device into space without hitting something on the way up ? hmm ??

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      We're British. We'd simply politely wait until it moved at of the way.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        And apologise to it.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I suppose a small one could be deflected a little way to the NW of the EU.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Iceland? It'll just spout another volcano.

  9. rg287 Silver badge

    For those wondering, here is the ESA Funding Pie Chart.

    The ESA is a strictly what-you-put-in-you-get-out organisation. There's no "winning" or "losing". If you put €100M in, they'll spend €100M in your country. Base membership contributions are based on GDP and then there are optional programmes that states can additionally sign up to (like Hera). Spend for optional projects only goes back to participating nations.

    The UK currently contributes (and receives) ~9% of the "ESA budget from Member States" (including Switzerland & Canada).

    France and Germany contribute 26.9% and 20.1% respectively.

    So you would expect France and Germany to get twice as much spend as the UK (because they put twice as much in), even before they start soaking up money from the EU projects.

    The EU then puts in about €1.53B for EU projects like Galileo and Copernicus. Spending for those projects has to go back to EU states, or participating non-EU states who have signed up to those projects (like Switzerland).

    When the author states:

    Bremen-based OHB took a substantial bite out of ESA's Copernicus award pie earlier this year while the UK, a major ESA contributor, did not fare so well

    This is a bit misleading. Copernicus is an EU project delivered by ESA - not an "ESA project". Once we left the EU, we lost our entitlement to a slice of that €1.53Bn they drop in for Galileo/Copernicus/etc. We didn't "not fare well". It wasn't an open contest that we lost. We surrendered our entitlement by leaving the EU. If we were still in, a chunk of Copernicus would have had to come to us.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Pay to play

      We didn't "not fare well". It wasn't an open contest that we lost. We surrendered our entitlement by leaving the EU.

      Or as you say, it's just the way these 'workshare' deals go.. Although possibly pre-empting our departure from the EUroclub. So Germany contributes the most funding, Germany gets the most work. And then given the number of contributors, work is shared amongst the remainder leading to design by committee. Or just bloated committees.

      So it might be better for the UK and the UK's space sector to look at international project proposals and partner with Japan, India etc instead. Or even the US, where universities do some interesting projects. There'll still be aspects of pork barrel politics, but maybe less than within the ESA.

    2. Citizen99

      @rg287 This response was too well-informed to swerve getting a downvote, in true Register tradition. But what do I know, having worked inter alia on ESRO/ESA projects since the early 1960s.

  10. Terry 6 Silver badge

    We've left the EU

    So an asteroid hitting Europe obviously won't affect us.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: We've left the EU

      2 Thumbs down. Now leaves me wondering, are they;

      A) taking me literally or

      B) sensitive Brexiteers that know I'm taking the piss out of them

      2 is more fun.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Captain Boing

    "the dinosaurs couldn't"

    hmm. those animals with no technological advancement of any kind whose super-power was turning each other into shit.

    What a daft thing to say - and get your haircut

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: "the dinosaurs couldn't"

      those animals with no "known" technological advancement.

      All the smart ones built a giant flying saucer and took every bit of evidence with them. They pop back from time ton time.

      The remaining ones had a huge international dance party using their telepathic powers to chat each other up while off their tits on mushrooms.

      It's true unless you can prove it otherwise.

  13. M7S

    "They're using our own satellites against us"

    Well not this time, all that debris in orbit is surely a secret planetary ablative shield put there by our secret world government.

    Or has something else actually placed it there to stop us getting out?

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: "They're using our own satellites against us"

      It is gravity and our lack of technology that stops us getting out.

      A long long time ago, someone got drunk and mis-behaved with a time machine, and was marooned on Earth with the instruction to evolve into a more responsible life form.

      Judging by the current state of the world, we have yet to complete our sentence. :o(

  14. Conundrum1885

    Somewhere in the UK

    Is an underground hardened bunker that would (likely) survive an extinction level event.

    Provided it doesn't get smacked point blank a la "Money Supermarket" as this would be most unfortunate.

    Rumor has it that its in Cumbria but this is based on out of date information circa 1998.

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