A new study approved by the European Space Agency (ESA) explained how the Lunar Gateway could serve as one of Earth's main defenses against killer asteroids. The study indicated that the Gateway could be used to launch anti-asteroid spacecraft.
The Lunar Gateway is a proposed orbital station that will be built by NASA, the ESA and space agencies from Russia, Japan and Canada. It will serve as a jumping point for missions to the Moon as well as deep space targets such as Mars.
Purpose Of Lunar Gateway
Once operational, the Lunar Gateway will be deployed to follow an elongated orbit around the Moon. Through an oval-shaped orbit, the Lunar Gateway's closest distance from the Moon's surface will be about 3,000 kilometres. Its farthest distance, on the other hand, will be at around 7,000 kilometres.
According to the space agencies, following an elongated orbit will allow the Lunar Gateway to effectively deliver crew and supplies to the Moon's surface during its close approaches.
Using Gateway For Planetary Defense
Aside from assisting exploration missions, a new study pointed out that the Gateway could be used to protect Earth from approaching asteroids. The study was submitted by Politechnico di Milano and was presented through the ESA's Open Space Innovation Platform (OSIP).
According to the study, which has been selected by ESA for funding, will assist agencies in carrying out anti-asteroid missions. This would work by docking impactor or anti-asteroid spacecraft on the Lunar Gateway. Once a dangerous asteroid has been detected, the spacecraft can be remotely launched in order to deflect the approaching space rock. As noted by the authors of the study, deploying the anti-asteroid spacecraft from lunar orbit will be much more efficient that launching it from Earth.
Upcoming Asteroid Deflection Missions
Currently, NASA and the ESA are working on planetary defense missions that involve deflecting asteroids. For NASA, the Double Asteroid Redirect Test will involve launching a spacecraft next year and intentionally crashing it on an asteroid.
Then, in 2026, the ESA will launch its Hera spacecraft to visit the asteroid targeted by NASA. Hera's main objective will be to analyze the effects of NASA's mission on the asteroid. It will also determine the effectiveness of deflecting an asteroid using an impactor.