Space Encounter

A column by Marco Fuchs: thoughts about time and space

Only space technology can protect the world from asteroids



June 27, 2018. Do you also enjoy gazing at the night sky? If so, you are sure to have also looked at the moon. And when you do so, you probably see without ever thinking about it that the moon is covered in craters. They are readily discernible with the naked eye. However, these craters did not originate on their own, but stem from the constant bombardment of asteroids over millions of years - a phenomenon to which the earth has also been exposed for millions of years. We just do not see the signs on our planet as clearly because the earth has a very active geology. In addition, it is extremely rare for really large objects to hit the earth. Yet, if it does occasionally happen, the effects are devastating.

Explosive force as 1,400 Hiroshima bombs

Like on June 30, 1908 when an asteroid with a diameter of between 30 and 80 meters exploded over Tunguska in Siberia. Every single tree in a radius of 2,000 square kilometers was blown over. Experts assume that the asteroid had the same explosive force as 1,400 Hiroshima bombs. The consequences of such a giant directly hitting a city does not bear thinking about. Another incident also occurred in Russia in 2013 when an asteroid of 15 to 20 meters in size exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,500 people.

To raise global awareness of this real threat, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 30th to be international “Asteroid Day” in 2016. Asteroid Day had been conceived of in 2014 by film director Grig Richters and Queen guitarist and graduate astrophysicist Brian May. Around 100 scientists and also astronauts joined the initiative at that time, calling for improved protection of the earth against the risk of a catastrophic asteroid impact and for the development of the instruments needed to achieve this.

I greatly welcomed the initiative from the start especially as I am convinced that people are not sufficiently aware of the risk. Although ESA is observing near earth objects such as asteroids or meteorites with a size ranging from a few meters to several kilometers that are orbiting the sun and potentially liable to cross the earth’s trajectory, there are hundreds and thousands of them and only a fraction of these have been discovered and can therefore be monitored. Yet, even if we were to detect objects headed towards earth on a collision course early enough, we still know far too little about what we must do to deflect them to avoid an impact. We quite simply do not know enough about the composition of asteroids.

We are all affected by this risk, no matter where we live

This is why we must take joint endeavors to add to this knowledge as quickly as possible. There are many clever ideas on how to protect the earth and, hence, also humanity from asteroid impacts. I see the possibilities afforded by space exploration and improved technological process as being the key to this. Yet, this calls for a joint cross-border initiative – after all, we are all affected by this risk, no matter where we live.

The threat is real, so we need to start developing the technologies now to avert this risk. OHB is contributing to this with its own technical developments and investments. In 2015, we prepared a feasibility study for ESA on asteroid defense and would be happy to contribute in 2018 with another study on the HERA mission. I also recently visited our Italian subsidiary OHB Italia, where OHB engineers are building the “Fly Eye” telescope for ESA. This is a fascinating instrument located in Sicily that will soon be on the lookout for near earth objects. This technological marvel is to usher in a far-reaching network that will enable potential collisions with asteroids to be detected at a far earlier stage in the future.



Personal details:

Born in 1962, Marco R. Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE and OHB System AG since 2000. Marco R. Fuchs is married and has two children.