Planetary defenders: after NASA's DART comes ESA's Hera

Sat, 20 Nov 2021 23:52:39 GMT
Space Daily

Paris (ESA) Nov 19, 2021 The world will be watching the milestone launch of NASA's Double Asteroid...

DART will collide with the small moon of an asteroid in order to shift its orbit around its parent body - to test the concept of diverting threatening objects away from Earth.

ESA will provide crucial ground station support to DART as it departs for deep space, helping relay signals from the ambitious mission immediately following launch.

One group of Europeans is following DART's launch campaign particularly closely: the team developing ESA's Hera spacecraft, designed to undertake a close-up survey of the consequences of DART's collision.

DART will collide with the smaller body of the Didymos binary asteroid system in September 2022, striking at a speed of around 6.6 km per second.

Observing from across space will still leave multiple unknowns, such as the precise mass of Dimorphos, its makeup and its internal structure - as well as the size and shape of the crater left by DART. So, in November 2024 Hera will head towards the Didymos system, commencing its detailed 'crime scene investigation' of the two asteroids in late 2026.

By gathering data close-up, Hera will help turn DART's grand scale impact experiment into a well-understood and repeatable deflection technique - ready to be deployed if an asteroid should ever be spotted heading Earthward.

"The distant end point of all this activity will soon become much more tangible, notes Patrick Michel, CNRS Director of Research of France's Cote d'Azur Observatory and Hera's Principal Investigator."Either directly or through its accompanying Italian-made LICIACube 'selfie-sat', DART next year should give us our first brief close-up of the Didymos system.

"An international community of people are anticipating that initial glimpse, then the more detailed survey that will follow from Hera. In all there are hundreds of researchers from dozens of institutions located across Europe, the US and other countries as far afield as Japan and Uruguay involved in the two missions, their work coordinated through the AIDA collaboration, with a wide cross-participation between DART and Hera scientists."

ESA support for DART departure ESA's deep space ground station at New Norcia in Western Australia will be supporting NASA's Deep Space Network during DART's launch.

The station's agile, 4.5m antenna, which is specifically designed for initial acquisition of a spacecraft following launch, will capture the first signal from DART after it separates from its Falcon 9 launcher and help maintain contact as the spacecraft heads into interplanetary space.