Missing the Opportunity

As a whole, Asteroid Patrol had been around since the mid 2000s and had built up an impressive database of more than two million known asteroids and their orbital elements. The large number of telescopes in varying Earth orbits had enabled them to find asteroids that had remained undetected previously.

Early on a part of Asteroid Patrols work had been to scout for alien spacecraft in secret. This meant that funding was flowing without problems.

When the unofficial job of Asteroid Patrol became official, it was eventually transferred into a new organization called Sky Watch in 2022. The job of Sky Watch was to survey space for any visible signs of potential alien aggressors, either by using radio telescopes or optical telescopes on Earth and in orbit, which were partly transferred over from Asteroid Patrol.

Asteroid Patrol began to suffer from a lack of funding and equipment and, while alien technology and scientific knowledge had also been a boon to the organization, less and less asteroids were discovered each passing year and replacements for aging telescopes could not be acquired as easily as before. Keeping track of known asteroids also cost time that kept them from looking for new ones.

A side effect of Sky Watch’s operation was the detection of a large number of asteroids. Already by 2026 the number of asteroids detected by Sky Watch surpassed the number discovered by Asteroid Patrol.

Asteroid Patrol had done a great job over the past decades, but now it had come to an end in the eyes of many politicians and was gracefully shut down over the next year. A small percentage of personnel from Asteroid Patrol was transferred to Sky Watch, as was some of the latest equipment. The remaining personnel was given compensation and in some cases good pensions, while the equipment was sold on the open market.

Several of the non-transferred astronomers, who had worked for Asteroid Patrol for over a decade, wanted to keep doing their job of searching the sky for potentially dangerous asteroids.

In November 2026 they founded the non-profit Fondation Besixdouze , with the aim to acquire some of the old orbital telescopes from Asteroid Patrol and begin to watch the skies again.

In late November 2026, six months after its formation, Fondation Besixdouze was approached by Planetary Mining and Manufacturing. The aging chairman of PM&M, Larry Page, wanted to support the Foundation with funding and launch capacity aboard their DH-1, in exchange for limited use of the telescopes now and again for taking a peek at an interesting asteroid.

The Fondation Besixdouze turned out to be very interested in the cooperation, especially in the committed funding. The contract between Fondation Besixdouze and PM&M, allowed the latter to use up to half of the telescopes of the Foundation for one day per month to take a look at interesting objects.

By 2028, Fondation Besixdouze had secured six of these partnerships and was able to expand its operations again to twenty orbiting telescopes in various orbits around Earth and even the Moon. Two of the telescopes were even operating in the L1 and L2 points of Earth and the Sun.

Fondation Besixdouze took part in the 2032 Known Asteroid Survey and detected a new asteroid, 2032 ON237, and observed it for two days to calculate its orbital parameters, but the asteroid disappeared on July 23. An image was taken during the time of its disappearance, coinciding with the Survey taking an image of 99942 Apophis.

On the hunch of one of the astronomers of Fondation Besixdouze, the preliminary orbital parameters of 2032 OM237 were matched with those of 99942 Apophis. Calculations showed the newly discovered asteroid, believed to be a body of about 15 meter in diameter and a mass of 15000 tonnes, had collided with Apophis.

While the impact of the smaller asteroid didn’t change the orbital parameters of Apophis significantly, the higher ups in Fondation Besixdouze still ordered a calculation of the risks of Apophis hitting Earth with the new orbital parameters. This was largely due to the history of Apophis, having been the highest on the Torino impact hazard scale before its 2013 pass through cislunar space.

On July 30, the Fondation believed that Apophis had once again become the highest ranking object on the Torino scale. As such, a close encounter was posing a serious, but still uncertain threat, capable of regional devastation.

They immediately informed the G-12 nations and the UN, as they had been the first to set up Asteroid Patrol and were the ones that were most likely to be able to take care of such a problem.

The UN then asked Sky Watch to confirm the information of the Fondation. Sky Watch moved to observe Apophis for a while, but didn’t come to the same conclusion the Fondation Besixdouze had. Sky Watch felt that the orbit of Apophis had not changed significantly enough to be a danger to Earth, though they officially put his threat rating up to rank 4, on the Torino scale, the rank the asteroid originally held.

The Fondation Besixdouze again observed Apophis for a longer period of time, to try and confirm their own data, enabling them to reduce uncertainties further. The corrected data from the extended observation period, while keeping it within the internally used rank 5, vastly increases the probability of an impact of the asteroid in 2036.

With the reconfirmed information, the Fondation Besixdouze informed the UN and other officials again, but since they expected little response this time, they also chose to send out a press release to many of the worlds news agencies. It did however not have the desired effect as those media that actually picked up the news either only did it marginally or chose to do it in such a way that it would be seen as cheap fearmongering and an attempt to gain media-attention. Several newspapers and channels even had interviews with astronomers to counter the arguments or data Fondation Besixdouze presented. Interviews with astronomers of Sky Watch were used to counter the arguments and data of the Fondation Besixdouze.

Only a single G-12 nation, Brazil, and several private entities were still very interested in the information of the Fondation Besixdouze. People in Brazil still remembered the near impact of Sao Paolo and as such the Brazilian government was more willing to listen. PM&M and Orbital Industries on the other hand saw Apophis as an opportunity.

Backed up by the Brazilian government, OTRAG and Embraer set up the Space Sentinel Meeting in Brasilia in December 2032, inviting various companies and non-profit organizations, including Sky Watch. The Fondation Besixdouze was one of the first speakers of the meeting, presenting the data they had on Apophis.

Sky Watch followed with a presentation of their own data, suggesting that Apophis still didn’t present a threat to Earth. They had set up a second short observation period of the asteroid and were able to refine their data, but the margin of error still suggested that the asteroid wasn’t on a threatening orbital path.

The divergence between the two sets of data sparked off a heated debate, where managers of Sky Watch accused the Fondation Besixdouze of manipulating their data to get into the news for monetary reasons. The people of the Fondation on the other hand criticized the Sky Watch management not to take the threat seriously and to have used too little observation time to refine the orbital data on the asteroid suitably.

Afterwards a number of companies and other organizations presented their solutions to the problem of saving Earth from Apophis. The two biggest companies to present solutions were PM&M and Orbital Industries, while other presentations were done by smaller organizations.

PM&M presented a preliminary plan to prevent Apophis to impact Earth. The Maat Plan basically called for the use of a large spacecraft with a large propellant mass to berth with Apophis and then use its engines to change the asteroids orbit over a longer time, preferably until the asteroid would not pose a threat to Earth again.

Orbital Industries proposed a more ambitious plan, even though they were not fully convinced about the threat Apophis posed. Instead of merely changing the orbit of Apophis, they proposed to change the orbit in such a way that Apophis would be placed into an orbit that made it pass close to the moon in such a way that it would act as a gravity assist to slow down the asteroid, allowing it to be captured by the gravity of Earth and pushed into a stable orbit. Any further adjustments would then be done by nearby spacecraft.

The conclusion of the Space Sentinel Meeting was mixed. Nearly half of those present were on the side of Sky Watch, while only just about a third was on the side of the Fondation Besixdouze.

One week after the end of the Space Sentinel Meeting, Orbital Industries presented a more refined plan during a big press conference in the company’s headquarters in London. Orbital Industries had made use of their allocated time on the telescopes of the Fondation Besixdouze to confirm the information.

As a joint venture between Thyssenkrupp, EuroSpace and Imerys, the company had access to some of the high end technology available to ESA and was already building the Humboldt, the first Asteroid Mining craft of Orbital Industries. Based on the Marco Polo, the Humboldt was designed around a latest generation Z-Pinch fusion engine and was believed to be able to push Apophis into a new course for a capture by the Moon and Earth, rather than impacting on Earth.

For this mission however the Humboldt was not going to carry its mining equipment, but rather additional fuel tanks to be able to push the several billion tonnes of silicate rock. Models of the orbital path of Apophis suggested that the Humboldt needed to do a 10 day long burn, about one month before the encounter with Earth to push the asteroid into a trajectory that made it pass by the Moon in a gravity assist maneuver.

To get to Apophis, the Humboldt needed to be launched in late 2033, and follow a complicated orbital path to be able to meet with the asteroid about two months before the Earth encounter. To save propellant, The Humboldt was going to use Venus for a gravity assist, before grazing the orbit of Mercury and was the closest to the Sun than any other previous manned spacecraft.

After this press conference, the Humboldt became the front page material on all media and the echo was mixed.

PM&M noted that they wished good luck to Orbital Industries and that the plan was indeed sound. When questioned why PM&M wasn’t going to do the same the answer was that the two asteroid mining craft of the company were not able to get back to Earth in time.

A number of experts noted, that based on the numbers of Sky Watch, Apophis was not a threat, but the exercise of Orbital Industries was only going to result in positive feedback for orbital industries as a whole with even easier to reach resources available within cislunar space.

Negative voices called out that Orbital Industries was not going to do it right while others accused them of planning to try and take the world hostage.

Sky Watch confirmed that the plan might work, even though they still weren’t willing to take the threat of Apophis as face value.

Orbital Industries was faced with a number of lawsuits against the Capture Project, but kept working on the Humboldt and on optimizations for the trajectories.

The Humboldt was finished in June 2033 and made a short trip from LEO to the Moon and then to Gateway Station, before returning to LEO, where the spacecraft was equipped for the mission to Apophis and fueled. The spacecraft took on nearly 10000 tonnes of water as propellant, 30 tonnes of deuterium as fuel and about 200 tonnes of reaction mass for the reaction control systems.

On November 13, 2033, only about two weeks after the spacecraft of the Arcas Project had left for Jupiter, the Humboldt left Earth orbit on its trajectory towards Venus with a crew of eight. The spacecraft followed the carefully optimized trajectory nearly perfectly and reached Apophis on January 23, 2036. The only problems during transit happened during the closest approach to the sun, when the cooling system of two habitat modules failed and had to be repaired very quickly.

At first the pair of observation pods of the Humboldt made a number of orbits around the asteroid, taking high resolution images of the surface to help determine if the larger spacecraft was able to connect at a place where it could have the maximum effect of its thrust for an orbital change. During the initial close up observation it was discovered that the asteroid was solid and not a ‘rubble pile’, as some within Orbital Industries had suspected.

Thankfully the optimal docking place was close to the rotational axis of the asteroid and the asteroids ‘day’ of thirty hours could be relatively easily compensated for during the burn.

After the pods returned and the berthing place was selected, he Humboldt moved closer to the asteroid and put itself into position, before firing three harpoons at the asteroid. At the first try only two were able to connect, while the third only firmly connected on the fourth try.

With the harpoons in place, the crew of the Humboldt reeled themselves in to the asteroid, setting down on its surface for about twelve hours. To get a better connection, four massive drills slowly worked themselves into the hard silicate rock of the asteroid. A special polymer was then used to fix the drills into the asteroid, creating a solid connection to the Humboldt and a base for later constructions on the asteroids surface.

As Apophis moved closer towards Earth and Orbital Industries prepared to push at the asteroid, Sky Watch began to observe the operations of the Humboldt on the asteroid, making use of the Goldstone radar system as well as a part of their orbital telescopes.

The closer observation of the asteroid over the next two weeks, as the Humboldt prepared for its burn, lead to repeated corrections of the orbital data by Sky Watch. By February 20, 2036 Sky Watch raised an alarm as the data now was identical with the data of the Fondation Besixdouze that had previously been rejected. On February 21, the threat rating of Apophis was raised to 9, as the impact was only about one month away.

The United Nations and especially the G-12 nations were surprised at the sudden change of reactions to the asteroid and put pressure on the organization to explain why they didn’t confirm the data earlier. Sky Watch was forced to begin an internal investigation to find the culprits, while they had to rapidly plan for a failure of the Orbital Industries plan to divert the asteroid in such a way that it was captured by Earth.

Several politicians, backing up the people in the positions that had kept the observation times short, began to shift the blame to Orbital Industries for the change in the asteroid’s trajectory. Orbital Industries and the entire newly developing space industry came under scrutiny of the news and the public eye.

Lawsuits against Orbital Industries and others like PM&M opened, for reckless endangerment of the planet for uncertain financial gain. The Fondation Besixdouze also became a target of lawsuits by several parties.

Several groups managed to claim injunctions against Orbital Industries to stop the carefully planned burn, only to be fought by the companies well paid lawyers. Over the next week until the burn was planned there were several heated battles in court, while the Humboldt kept ready.

The United Nations meanwhile came up with a quick and dirty plan to try and deal with Apophis. As a solid body, it was more likely to be affected by nuclear weapons than a gravel pile that would simply swallow the force of the detonation and thereby could theoretically be moved by them. So the Big Four prepared themselves to use their nuclear weapons to try and divert the asteroid in the last minute, while hoping that it would never come to it.

On February 28, Humboldt began with an eleven day burn of its Z-Pinch thruster that was visible from Earth, followed by Goldstone and a number of earthbound and orbital telescopes.

At the end of the eleven-day-burn it was clear that the operation had been successful and the asteroid had been moved from its initial trajectory into one that passed the Moon extremely close, with the closest approach to its surface at eight kilometers.

Humboldt had the best orbital data, as they had done the burn on computer control and followed the data provided by Orbital Industries exactly. The spacecraft detached from the initial berthing point and exchanged its drills for new ones, before approaching a second place on the asteroids surface.

Again the four drills of the Humboldt worked themselves into the surface to attach the spacecraft to the asteroid, ready for the three projected capture burns.

Over the following month the lawyers of Orbital Industries were able to prove that their clients had not previously diverted Apophis from it course, ending a number of lawsuits, shifting the blame back towards Sky Watch and their internal politics.

An anonymous internal source within Sky Watch also provided evidence, that management figures had been trying to cover their tracks and those of their associates in politics, to the Washington Post and the London Times, creating a scandal at the worst possible time. Those management figures had cut short the observation times for Apophis after the alarm from the Fondation Besixdouze, leading to incomplete data on the orbital data of the asteroid.

To save face in the public eye Sky Watch was forced to assign blame, quickly shifting it to several of those who were to actually blame as well as some scapegoats. This in turn hurt a few of the politicians as well. It nevertheless also hurt the public image Sky Watch had tried to maintain.

Apophis passed the Moon on March 23 and was deflected into an Earth orbit with a periapsis at 20000 kilometers on March 25. Humboldt’s thruster ignited again at periapsis, finally bringing the asteroid into the gravitational pull of Earth.

The following two burns settled the asteroid into an orbit 125000 kilometers above the surface of Earth.

On March 29, Orbital Industries laid claim on Apophis, Earth’s second moon.

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