ESA’s new mission aims to return to an asteroid that was thrown off course when a spacecraft crashed into its surface last year.
In September 2022, NASA crashed a spacecraft into a harmless asteroid millions of kilometers away as part of a mission to review planetary defense plans in case a spacecraft could threaten Earth. .
The mission proved successful. The impact of NASA’s DART spacecraft successfully altered the orbit of a 160 meter dimorphous asteroid around a much larger space rock named Didymos.
Before the impact, the asteroid took 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit its parent asteroid, but last October, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson acknowledged that the impact shortened the asteroid’s orbit by 32 minutes.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is currently preparing a follow-up mission to return to the asteroid and investigate the impact.
The HERA mission, named after the Greek goddess of marriage, is scheduled to launch in October 2024.
“The HERA mission will deploy radar for the first time, which will allow us to obtain the internal structure of the asteroid. It will also use a series of thermal and multispectral cameras to understand the asteroid’s properties. equipment will also be installed,” explained Ian Carnelli, HERA project coordinator.
“What HERA will do is complement NASA’s mission by gathering all the information scientists need to verify numerical impact codes. “It means we can design missions when the situation arises,” he added.
The HERA spacecraft will travel to Dimorphos carrying two small drone-like CubeSats that will be deployed around Didymos and Dimorphos and eventually land.
“They’re going to have ground-penetrating radar, they’re going to have multispectral imaging equipment, they’re going to have all of these things. And of course, the closer they get, the more risks they take. , the idea is that we will fly a cheaper system closer to the danger zone and ensure safety, “HERA is at a safe distance,” Carnelli said.
The HERA mission is expected to play an important role in the development of planetary defense technology should asteroids threaten Earth in the future.
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video editor • Aisling Ní Húrin