Scientists plead for help with asteroid deflection mission

By Paul Harper

Photo / AIDA
Photo / AIDA

European scientists are appealing for research ideas to help with the development of an asteroid deflection mission.

While the Apophis asteroid, known as the "doomsday asteroid", is forecast to pass 30,000km from the Earth in 2036, a massive lump of space rock may well smash into our planet in the future, killing us all.

So the European Space Agency asking for people to help develop a plan to avert potential Armageddon.

"ESA is appealing for research ideas to help guide the development of a US-European asteroid deflection mission now under study," the agency said in a statement.

"Concepts are being sought for both ground- and space-based investigations, seeking improved understanding of the physics of very high-speed collisions involving both man-made and natural objects in space. "

The ideas will be used to help refine the Asteroid Impact and Deflection mission - AIDA.

The "innovative but low-budget" transatlantic partnership will involve sending two small space crafts to intercept a binary asteroid.

The first, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft and designed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in the US, will collide with the smaller of the two asteroids.

The second craft, the ESA's Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM), will survey the two asteroids in detail, before and after the collision.

The ESA said the impact should change the pace at which the objects spin around each other. While this is observable from Earth, AIM's close-up view will 'ground-truth' such observations.

"The advantage is that the spacecraft are simple and independent," said Andy Cheng of Johns Hopkins, leading the AIDA project on the US side. "They can both complete their primary investigation without the other one."

But by working in tandem, the quality and quantity of results will increase greatly, Andres Galvez, ESA's AIDA study manager said.

"Both missions become better when put together - getting much more out of the overall investment.

"And the vast amounts of data coming from the joint mission should help to validate various theories, such as our impact modelling."

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