Scientists Plan for Asteroid Deflection Mission

File:Minor Planets - Apollo.svg

The Apollo asteroid group (shown in green). The Sun is in the center, with the planets Mercury (black), Venus (yellow), Earth (blue) and Mars (red). The European Space Agency and NASA plan on crashing a spacecraft into an Apollo asteroid, to study techniques which could deflect a future asteroid that may pose a danger to Earth. (Image Source: )

Scientists Plan for 2022 Space Smash

By Eve Pearce, European Correspondent

Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

2013 April 15


Leading astronomers in the United States and Europe are planning to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in order to research deflection methods. The project, entitled the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment Mission (AIDA), will be launched in 2019 and will see two space rockets sent on a mission to reach the asteroid Didymos. The crafts – one built by the European Space Agency and the other by scientists from the United States – will take three years to reach their destination.


No chance of Earth impact


Didymos is a binary asteroid system; it binds two giant space rocks together by the force of gravity. The main rock, which measures more than 800 meters (2,625 feet) in width, is orbited by the second rock, which is around 150 meters (490 feet). Scientists say that the positioning and the size of this asteroid system make it perfect for this type of experiment; there is no risk of it getting anywhere near Earth but is close enough for them to reach within a few years.


Scientists say that the mission will provide them with an exciting first glimpse into the formation of binary asteroid systems, being a first-of-a-kind project. This type of research will enable space scientists to gain a better understanding of the systems so that they are better prepared to deflect future asteroids that pose a threat to the Earth.


At the time of its impact with the spacecraft, the Didymos asteroid system will be around 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from the Earth. Scientists say that this is the closest it will ever reach our planet, which is why they have timed the impact to coincide with this.


Creating a crater


Andy Rivkin, from John Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is one of the scientists leading the development of the U.S spacecraft. He explained at the recent Lunar and Planetary Science Conference that the U.S segment of the project will be called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and will be built to crash into the smaller of the two asteroids.


The craft will be travelling at a speed of around 14,000 miles per hour (22,530 kilometers per hour), which will be enough speed to create a huge crater on the surface of the asteroid. It is hoped that the force of this impact will send the asteroid slightly off course.


Basis for future deflection methods


Meanwhile, the European segment of the project is building the second spacecraft, referred to as the Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM). This craft will observe the impact from a safe distance, and its data will be combined with other existing scientific data that has been collected over the years through the use of telescopes. Scientists will then analyze the findings to establish exactly what happened to the asteroid system following the impact with the DART craft.


Jens Biele, a researcher working on the European team, said that the AIM spacecraft will be a “usual shoebox satellite”, but can monitor whether the asteroid could be pushed off course by miniscule fractions. Scientists claim that the DART spacecraft will only intend to push it off course by a few millimeters. If the test is successful, Rivkin says that it could form the basis for learning how to deflect larger asteroids should they come into the Earth’s path in the future.


Scientists are hoping that, in the future, they will be able to use Internet connections in space to relay back crucial data to Earth on missions such as this. In 2010, scientists made headlines when they set up the first Internet connection in space. Astronauts caused a sensation when they successfully tweeted from the International Space Station. The cost, however, won’t come cheap. While people on Earth can now enjoy low costs on Internet connections thanks to the proliferation of the World Wide Web, those in space won’t be so fortunate. Well, not for a long while anyway; the estimated cost of satellite bandwidth per MHz is priced at around $3,500 a month minimum. It’ll be a good few years before this is possible – for now we will have to watch this space.

Source: Eve Pearce, European Correspondent Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.

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