Students’ designs to save Earth form 2010 asteroid

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By Jasmine Yeung

Vince Robertson had a perilous mission last semester — design a spacecraft to save Earth.

What he and 11 other engineering students invented was a spacecraft equipped with 10 fuel tanks, remote landers and a five-person crew to save humanity from an asteroid set to slam into the planet on Oct. 26, 2010.

“It took a lot of time,” said Robertson, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student. “Each week we would have a three-hour lecture and then work in our team for 10 hours.

“We pretty much used the Internet [for information], and what we couldn’t figure out, we consulted textbooks.”

Along with Robertson’s team, students from Royal Military College and Queen’s University unveiled their designs last Sunday at a space network conference held in the Rogers Communications Centre.

The teams worked on their projects for 13 weeks as part of an Internet-based program which began four years ago. This year, the students’ mission as to design an “asteroid vehicle deflection system” — a manned spacecraft that would allow astronauts to travel to an earth-threatening asteroid and deploy a nuclear device to destroy or deflect it.

“It’s enjoyable now that it’s done,” said Ryerson team member Ottis Goulbourne, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student. “It was a great experience, but it could get really stressful with 12 guys in the room working on the same project.”

Goulbourne said it took many meetings before the group decided which direction to take.

“Some of us came in with ideas, but we just brainstormed together, basically incorporating our thoughts.”

While the conference seemed to draw from the plots of movies such as Armageddon and Deep Impact in which asteroid on a collision course for Earth were destroyed, the solutions Hollywood came up with — like Armageddon’s 18-day trip to the asteroid — were not scientifically possible, said aerospace engineering student Matt Reeves.

“We saw the movies,” he said. “At least they looked like real spaceships.”

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