Another two large asteroids are posing a threat to the Earth along with Asteroid Apophis, Russia's Energia Space Rocket Corporation President Vitaly Lopota said.
"Apart from the well known Asteroid Apophis, there are two more big asteroids, whose flight paths cross the Earth's orbit. Scientists have calculated that there is a probability, albeit meager, of their collision [with the Earth] within the next few decades. But there is no need to explain what could happen to the Earth in this case: it will be a catastrophe of a global scale," he said in an interview published in the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper on Friday.
However, this threat can be averted if a launch vehicle capable of carrying a payload of some 70 tonnes puts a spacecraft into orbit in order to intercept the asteroid and change its flight path, Lopota said.
"I can presume that such an operation will involve space tows with nuclear- or solar-powered engines that will be able to deliver the appropriate means and energy capable of changing the asteroid's orbit with the help of electric propulsion engines," he said.
A launch vehicle able to lift a payload of 70 tonnes could also come in handy for tackling purely civilian tasks of space exploration, Lopota said.
"For example, a launch vehicle with a payload of 65-75 tonnes intended for space exploration could be built using RD-171 engines within 3-5 years," he said.
Today these engines serve to power Zenit-3SL launch vehicles, which are used as part of the Sea Launch and Land Launch projects.
"RD-171 engines are produced by Energomash. We call them "tsar engines" because they can determine the competitiveness of our launch vehicles in the coming decades. No other country has similar engines," Lopota said.