Plan to intercept Earth-bound asteroids with spacecraft

Rodiano Bonacci
Settembre 5, 2019

The joint mission, the primary launch for which is slated for 2022, will take a look at whether or not it's potential to deflect an asteroid's orbit in a predictable method.

Next week, researchers from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will attend a conference in Rome to discuss the progress of an ambitious mission to deflect an asteroid in space.

The main body of Didymos measures about 780m across, and its smaller one measures about 160m - slightly bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

It sounds like something out of your favorite sci-fi story, but NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are teaming up to help fight against any asteroids that could threaten Earth.

The goal of the mission is to deflect the orbit of a smaller asteroid of the double Didymos asteroids between Earth and Mars using the impact of one spacecraft.

Two independent spacecraft would be sent to Didymos including an asteroid impactor - NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) alongside which an Italian CubeSat, LICIACube, will also be flying.

NASA's DART spacecraft is already below building, with a launch deliberate for the summer time of 2021 with the objective of reaching the asteroid goal in September 2022.

If successful, the second spacecraft will record the moment of impact and collect as much data as possible to assess the effects of the collision. The craft will assess, for instance, the form of the resultant crater and the mass of the asteroid post-collision.

It is hoped that the results obtained by Hera would allow researchers to better model the efficiency of the collision, which could make the asteroid deflection technique a valid option in the event of a real threat.

In effect, the smaller physique orbits on the low velocity of some centimetres per second - that means that the moon's orbit can feasibly be shifted in a significant method. Hera will be launched in October 2024 and will reach the asteroid after about two years.

"Hera will, in fact, gather essential data to turn this one-off experiment into an asteroid deflection technique applicable to other asteroids", Carnelli added.

HERA will also deploy a pair of its own mini satellites to perform the first asteroid radar drill that can gather information about its surface. Hera will also be the first mission to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system, a mysterious class of object believed in making up around 15% of all known asteroids. And our mission will test a variety of important new technologies, including deep space CubeSats, inter-satellite links and autonomous image-based navigation techniques, while also providing us with valuable experience of low-gravity operations.

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