NASA And ESA Want To Nudge An Asteroid

By Ben Hamill - October 08 2019

A “planetary defence” mission is no longer a thing of Star Trek fiction. Planet Earth last year only just barely escaped a disastrous encounter with an asteroid the size of a football field. Had an actual near miss occurred, the asteroid could have wiped out an entire city. Researches at NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are eager to avoid future close calls or worse and have formulated a pro-active emergency plan.

The planetary defense mission goes by the name of AIDA (Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment) and is a joint endeavour between the two space agencies. It will according to early reports be actioned into motion by as early as 2021 and will approximately a year following first launch, be steered directly into oncoming asteroid traffic.

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It’s A Two-Tiered Plan

The emergency plan involves two phases. The first phase will involve the launch of NASA’s DART spacecraft. The craft will be steered in the direction of an oncoming asteroid and will be smashed into the outer space rock in an attempt to deflect the asteroid in its orbit. The expectation is that this will have the effect of rerouting the asteroid away from earth’s immediate air space.

The European Space Agency will a couple of years later launch an observatory mobile craft. The ESA spacecraft will supposedly follow the deflected asteroid in an attempt to reach certain conclusions about the efficacy of the mission and deflect-strategy.

John Hopkins University scientist Nancy Chabot will direct the DART mission. The mission will focus on deflection instead of disruption, says Chabot, and the idea isn’t at all to blow the asteroid to bits, but instead to merely nudge it onto a different trajectory course.

There Will Be Photos

DART won’t survive the impact with the asteroid but will be equipped with cameras able to record images up until the actual moment of impact, as well as transmit those images back to earth via satellite technology.

The collision course will be set for one of the two bodies that make up the Didymos binary asteroid system. The system actually consists of a large asteroid body as well as a smaller one measuring roughly 160 metres across its gird. The smaller of the two; which also just to happens to be orbiting the bigger one; will be the target for impact. The two asteroids are assumed to be orbiting roughly a kilometre apart.

Images of the pre-collision scene will be broadcast back to earth at a single frame every second.

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