Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Gravitational tractor for towing asteroids

A spacecraft could deflect an Earth-bound asteroid without having to dock to its surface first.

Abstract

We present a design concept for a spacecraft that can controllably alter the trajectory of an Earth-threatening asteroid by using gravity as a towline. The spacecraft hovers near the asteroid, with its thrusters angled outwards so that the exhaust does not impinge on the surface. This proposed deflection method is insensitive to the structure, surface properties and rotation state of the asteroid.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Towing geometry of a gravitational tractor.

References

  1. 1

    Chapman, C. R. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 222, 1–15 (2004).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Schweickart, R. L., Lu, E. T., Hut, P. & Chapman, C. R. Sci. Am. 289, 54–61 (2003).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Scheeres, D. J. & Schweickart, R. L. The Mechanics of Moving Asteroids (paper 2004–1446, Am. Inst. Aeronaut. Astronaut., 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Chesley, S. R. & Spahr, T. B. in Mitigation of Hazardous Comets and Asteroids (eds Belton, M. J. S. et al.) 22–37 (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Carusi, A., Valsecchi, G. B., D'Abramo, G. & Boatini, A. Icarus 159, 417–422 (2002).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    JPL Sentry Impact Risk Page http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Edward T. Lu.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lu, E., Love, S. Gravitational tractor for towing asteroids. Nature 438, 177–178 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/438177a

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing