Russian government and scientific institutions have responded to the Feb. 15 Chebarkul meteor explosion and the near-Earth asteroid flyby of the same day with concrete ideas to address the asteroid threat. Some of these have already been reported, but we summarize them all here to provide a comprehensive picture:
Immediately after the explosion near the Ural city of Chelyabinsk, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin announced that on Feb. 18 he would be submitting proposals to Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev on ways to predict and prevent disasters from space. Writing on Twitter, he said that the package would be an "objective picture" of the blast and "proposals on future possibilities for the country to determine the danger of objects approaching the Earth and prevent [them]." He also reiterated his 2011 proposal for an "international initiative" to create a "system" to prevent space threats. Rogozin said on Twitter on Sunday that "the essence of our idea consists of joining the intellectual and technological efforts of industrial nations," Russian, U.S., Chinese, and European industries as examples.
On Feb. 18, the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee chief, Alexei Pushkov, said, "Instead of fighting on Earth, people should be creating a joint system of asteroid defense." Pushkov continued, encouraging a multilateral drive for asteroid protection: "Instead of creating a [military] European space defense system, the United States should join us and China in creating the AADS — the Anti-Asteroid Defense System."
The same day, Lidiya Rykhlova, of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Astronomy, described a 58-billion-ruble (approximately $2 billion), ten-year program for asteroid defense, worked up by the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2010-2011. Rykhlova said that the program has been approved by the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, and now "it is on Rogozin's table." She said that Russia is aiming to establish one or two telescopes dedicated to finding asteroid threats.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, in a wide ranging Feb. 20 interview with the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, also discussed the Chebarkul meteorite and the asteroid threat in general. He called for international cooperation on this issue, and even raised the challenge posed by long-period comets.
"We put this question on the agenda for discussion at the III International Meeting of Senior Security Representatives, in June 2012 in St. Petersburg. The Russian Security Council has repeatedly proposed to develop an Intergovernmental Targetted Program to counteract space threats associated with the asteroid and comet danger and the build-up of space trash.... Comets may also present an even greater danger, since their velocity as a rule is greater than that of asteroids, reaching several tens of km/sec. The great majority of known comets have very elongated elliptical orbits, so the task of forecasting their appearance and trajectories is extremely complex. At present, the only comets that can be considered accessible for observation and threat evaluation for a collision with Earth are short-period comets with orbits within the solar system."
Another important call for international cooperation came Feb. 20 from Konstantin Tsypko, representative of the Chelyabinsk Region in the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of Parliament, who called for a heads-of-state summit on the matter. He addressed the "economic consequences not only in Russia, but also worldwide," stating that "both the Russian government and the international community are paying special attention to the asteroid threat and the need to protect the planet Earth as a whole from the dangers that space objects pose." As a result of the Chebarkul meteorite, Tsypko said, "I think it will result in increased investments in science and technology that can provide early warning or will affect asteroids, meteors, comets, so they will not reach the Earth. ... It would be logical to hold an international conference with the participation of heads of state to discuss the problem of an asteroid threat to Earth. Chelyabinsk is the first city in the history of our civilization that has survived a space attack."
Also yesterday, RIA Novosti reported that Russia's Aerospace Defense Forces have been given the task of defending against objects descending from space. "The Aerospace Defense Forces have been ordered to handle this issue and come up with a plan to protect Russia from these 'space travelers,'" said Maj. Gen. Igor Makushev, aviation commander for the western Military District.
"None of the existing systems, either Russian or American, detected this space object until it entered the atmosphere," Director of the Astronomy Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Boris Shustov said on Wednesday. Shustov said that astronomers have discovered and catalogued only two percent of potentially dangerous space objects about 50 meters in size, which are capable of causing a catastrophe worse than the 1908 Tunguska Event. "It is a sign of our ignorance, as we should be able to monitor about at least 90 percent, if not all of these objects," Shustov said.