Earlier this month, Russia’s Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau announced it’s intention to upgrade intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), to be used against asteroids that could potentially impact the Earth. The proposal comes two years after the high-altitude, 500-kiloton explosion of a 20-meter (65-foot) meteorite over Russia’s Chelyabinsk region, an event that caused extensive injuries and property damage.
The upgrades would involve replacing the rockets’ liquid-fuel engines with solid-fuel ones, similar to the boosters that were used on the space shuttle. This would be done to improve their response times, according to the bureau’s lead researcher, Sabit Saitgarayev: "Most rockets work on boiling fuel. Their fueling begins 10 days before the launch and, therefore, they are unfit for destroying meteorites similar to the Chelyabinsk meteorite in diameter, which are detected several hours before coming close to the Earth. For this purpose, intercontinental ballistic missiles can be used, which requires their upgrade."
The intended test target for the upgraded missiles would be the asteroid known as Apophis, a 325-meter (1066 foot) rock that is estimated to make an uncomfortably close pass to Earth in 2029, although Saitgarayev mentions that the proposed test would be for Apophis’ 2036 pass. The project is still awaiting both funding and government approval, but the designs for the upgrades are already underway.
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