One of the highlights in space last year was the collision of NASA’s DART mission with Dimorphos, the minor moon of the binary asteroid Didymos (seen left). The collision measurably shifted the target asteroid’s orbit around its primary orbit while hurling a column of debris thousands of kilometers into space.
Next comes the European Space Agency’s Hera spacecraft which will return to the binary asteroid to perform a close-up survey of the crater left by DART, as well as measure the mass and composition of Dimorphos, along with the mass of its central body.
“The Hera launch is scheduled for October 2024,” explains Ian Carneli, mission chief. “In order to reach that deadline, our team has worked diligently over the past year to finalize and test various spacecraft subsystems — including CubeSats that will be deployed from Hera itself near Dimorphos. In the meantime, the overall mission has passed its system critical design review. At the end of 2022, at the same time that Hera received funding for its operator and operations.
“Next year, everything comes together: all elements of the Hera flight model are scheduled to be integrated so that we can carry out a full campaign of environmental testing on the spacecraft at the European Space Agency’s ESTEC test center in the Netherlands. Another busy year, but in The end of which we aim to be on the right track to launch.”
The ESTEC Test Center is Europe’s largest satellite testing facility, equipped with facilities to simulate every aspect of launch and the space environment. The spacecraft-wide HERA test campaign is expected to begin in the fall.
Hera will be equipped with automated steering, navigation and control to allow it to safely navigate the twin asteroid system, which is similar in function to a self-driving car. Its desk-sized object will carry instruments including an optical asteroid-framing camera, augmented by thermal and spectrophotometers, as well as a laser altimeter for surface mapping. Hera is also three spacecraft in one, as it will also deliver a pair of shoebox-sized CubeSats near Dimorphos.
Juventas CubeSat will be the first-ever radar probe of an inner asteroid, while also carrying a gravimeter and accelerometer to measure the extremely low gravity and surface mechanical response of the object. The other CubeSat satellite, Melanie — named after the mission’s original inventor — will perform near-infrared spectral imaging and sampling of asteroid dust.
The CubeSat pair will stay in touch with their Hera mothership and each other through a new inter-satellite link system, building expertise in supervising multiple spacecraft in alien weightlessness, before finally touching down with Dimorphos.
NASA and ESA’s DART missions were supported by the same international teams of scientists and astronomers, and are done through an international collaboration called AIDA – Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment. Planetary Defense has no borders and is a great example of what International cooperation can check.
European Space Agency
the quote: Hera spacecraft to return to a binary asteroid to survey a crater left by DART (2023, January 19) Retrieved January 19, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-01-hera-spacecraft-binary-asteroid-survey .html
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