The European Space Agency (ESA) today announced that it is appealing for research ideas that could help develop a future mission to deflect life-threatening asteroids. It is asking for both ground and space-based ideas to improve scientist's understanding of high-speed collisions between man-made and natural objects.
No asteroids are currently on a collision course with Earth (though some are coming close), but the ESA is working with the U.S. to study how the deflection of a "doomsday" asteroid might be accomplished.
The project is called the Asteroid Impact and Deflection mission (AIDA). The low-budget partnership proposes two small spacecraft be sent to intercept a binary asteroid (two asteroids that orbit a common center of mass). One spacecraft, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will impact the smaller asteroid while the other spacecraft, the Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM), will monitor the event.
“The advantage is that the spacecraft are simple and independent,” said Andy Cheng, U.S. AIDA project lead Johns Hopkins University. “They can both complete their primary investigation without the other one.”
Scientists expect the collision to change the rate at which the asteroids orbit each other. The data from the AIM spacecraft will be able to confirm whether their predictions are true.
"Both missions become better when put together - getting much more out of the overall investment," said Andrés Gálvez, ESA AIDA study manager. "And the vast amounts of data coming from the joint mission should help to validate various theories, such as our impact modelling."
(Image courtesy ESA)