Russia to Re-Purpose ICBMs for Asteroid Defense System

Following a study intended to find the best method for deflecting potentially dangerous asteroids from the Earth, Russia has developed a plan for using its nuclear weapon arsenal as an asteroid shield. The study was a joint venture between Russia, the United States and various European nations.


The plan calls for the use of ICBMs, or Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, as the means of delivering a massive amount of force to deflect an asteroid from a projected collision course or to simply destroy smaller asteroids. ICBMs were chosen because of their inherent fueling characteristics. Originally designed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s as a method of launching a nuclear warhead at any time, the ICBM missiles use a solid fuel to produce the necessary force to become airborne, as opposed to the more traditional and volatile liquid fuel used by many other rocket systems. This solid fuel was originally selected because it could give the USSR the ability to launch long-range nuclear weapons against a target without the delay required for the preparation of a liquid-fueled rocket. The same advantage could be make Russia’s ICBM arsenal useful again, as the missiles can be launched against a detected asteroid without any kind of delay.


The ICBMs are just one component of the newly proposed shield system, however. In order to make it effective, a new and improved monitoring system will have to be set up to detect incoming asteroids. While most objects that are on close trajectory to the Earth are already well monitored, the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor event in which a previously undetected 65-foot meteor landed in Russia, injuring hundreds, proved that the ability to launch missiles instantly if an object is detected is necessary for such a system to be workable. The planned monitoring system will be made up on 4 new geosynchronous satellites that will monitor for Near Earth Orbit objects. This results in another complication, which is that the use of nuclear weapons in space is strictly forbidden under the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The researchers assigned to the project, however, concluded that the treaty terms would be unlikely to be a consideration when and if a major asteroid was determined to be on a collision course with the Earth.




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