The time has come to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid to test the Earth’s defence capability.
The joint spacecraft mission known as the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA), will consult with specialists coming together from the United States Space Agency, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The target asteroid is Didymos B, the smaller in the Didymos binary system. The spacecraft is the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) of NASA. The main reason behind this is to test whether an impact on a spaceship can deflect the trajectory of an asteroid as a means of protecting Earth from hazardous space rocks.
“It is important that Europe plays a leading role in AIDA, an innovative mission that was originally developed by the ESA research back in 2003, remarked Ian Carnelli from ESA.
“An international effort is an appropriate way forward and, the planetary defence is in everyone’s interest,” he further added.
There are currently 850 “near-Earth asteroids” (NEAs) on ESA’s list and over 18,000 known “near-Earth objects” (NEOs), as per the reports of the agency.
Impacts of small space rocks with Earth are comparatively common, and although more substantial consequences are rarer, they can cause catastrophic damage.
The impact of an asteroid collision on Earth depends on many factors, such as the position and location of impact, and the physical properties of the asteroid.
While we have the technology available with us to mitigate such a threat from an asteroid, it has never been tested in sensible conditions.
Researchers are examining the viability of diverting an asteroid by crashing a spacecraft to see if the technique is a feasible planetary defence method.
One of two Didymos double asteroids between Earth and Mars is under consideration, which they aim to deflect the orbit of using one spacecraft’s effect.
A second observation craft will examine the site of the crash and collect information on the impact of the collision.
NASA is providing the Double Asteroid Impact Test (DART) spacecraft, which is all set to collide with its target in September 2022 at a speed of at 6.6 km/s. It is already under development.
An Italian-made miniature CubeSat called LICIACube will record the moment of impact.
ESA will launch a Hera probe in October 2024 to study the target asteroid post-impact.
The results and observations of Hera will allow researchers to transform the experiment into a technique that could be repeated were there a real threat.