Metropolitan State University of Denver college students have a brand new mission: stopping the Earth from being destroyed by asteroids.
No, this is not the plot of a Bruce Willis movie remake. The Asteroid Institute, an arm of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit that describes itself as “an organization that works towards protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts and informing and forwarding world-wide decision-making on planetary defense issues,” has introduced a brand new partnership with York Space Systems and Metro State to create an asteroid-tracking system utilizing what’s described as a “constellation” of data-gathering satellites. And based on Chuck Beames, York’s govt chairman and chief technique officer, Metro State college students are going to group along with his crew on the undertaking.
“We’ve been giving them hands-on, practical experience,” says Beames, whose agency has already been collaborating with Metro State college students on different undertakings, “and the folks at the Asteroid Institute are excited, because they’re interested in data that will be collected by the satellites and what that will mean in terms of data analytics and software, which is another big push-and-thrust area for Metro State.”
York “makes small satellites and satellite solutions for the next generation of space companies,” Beames factors out. “It’s not much different than the transformation of the computer world when it went from mainframes to personal computers. A similar thing is going on in the satellite world, and it’s happening quickly.”
Satellite launches often “make it into the mainstream press,” he notes, “but what’s really important are the payloads. They’re changing the way we’ll all live currently and into the future.”
Metro State college students will probably be engaged on the program below the auspices of the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute.
At Metro State, Beames says, “We’re right on campus, on the fourth floor of the science building, and we make our satellites right there. These are industrial-grade. They’re not little toys, and they can do real missions. What’s exciting about it on the space side is that we’re able to tackle a lot of missions that were historically done by the government. A lot of different groups are doing things like environmental monitoring and remote-sensing applications. We’re excited about being on the forefront of that, and Metro State is very much an applied university. It’s all about preparing the next generation of students for real jobs in manufacturing with a state-of-the-art curriculum. So it’s a natural partnership.”
It’s paid off for Metro college students, too: “Our internship program at Metro State is working very well,” Beames provides. “We recently hired an intern who’s now a full-time engineer with York.”
The first objective of the new Asteroid Institute undertaking “is to map all of the asteroids of a certain size in the solar system,” he explains. “But this is really a map in three dimensions. It’s not a flat piece of paper. Once they know the orbital trajectories of these asteroids, they can map this stuff out.”
Doing so is necessary “for two reasons,” he goes on. “One is that asteroids can be an existential threat to Earth. Just ask the dinosaurs — except we can’t, since they went extinct because of asteroids. And even if an asteroid strike wasn’t an extinction event, a major asteroid striking the Eastern Seaboard, for example, would be a catastrophe in which thousands of people could be killed. That’s why there are folks in the government working on designs so that when we have mapping and orbital analysis a year or two from now, we’ll be able to see, ‘This asteroid is going to be coming close to the Earth. What can we do about that?’ And if we could give it a slight nudge, that could keep it clear of our planet and keep people safe.”
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Such a situation “sounds far-fetched,” Beames acknowledges, “but it’s not. Look at the Moon and see how many events have occurred on its surface — and it’s much smaller than the Earth. A lot of asteroids are small and burn up in the atmosphere, but there are plenty that don’t, and big ones could put the Earth in darkness for many years.”
The different rationale for mapping is extra constructive. “Asteroids are rich in metals and other resources, just like any other celestial body,” he says. “As humanity pushes out into the solar system, robotically at first and then through colonization, those resources will be needed — including water. So a map will help us use those resources for the extension of human exploration.”
Issues like these are a giant half of the Space Resources Roundtable, a planetary and terrestrial mining sciences symposium going down right this moment by means of June 15 at the Colorado School of Mines; click on for further details. And they’re going to get much more consideration on Asteroid Day, which takes place on June 30. In Beames’s phrases, the latter is “a huge, worldwide event sanctioned by the United Nations to bring attention to asteroids in general. The day is to recognize an asteroid impact that was significant in Russia on that day over 100 years ago. The headquarters for the event will be in Luxembourg, and I’ll be there.”
For those that doubt the practicality of the Asteroid Institute-York-Metro State alliance, Beames provides a reminder that “we’re near the very beginning of a revolution in space data and space utility. Look at the way a small, little signal like GPS has revolutionized car travel with Uber and Lyft. And, really, those are space data apps. So the proliferation in the coming decades of tens of thousands of these small satellites that will be providing all kinds of data of completely different types will revolutionize many different segments and sectors of the economy and democratize space in a way that’s never been done before.”