2020 Asteroid Deflection Mission Could Prevent Armageddon

Tuesday, 15 November 2016 - 2:06PM
Space
ESA
Tuesday, 15 November 2016 - 2:06PM
2020 Asteroid Deflection Mission Could Prevent Armageddon
The European Space Agency and NASA have teamed up to take down one of Earth's biggest threats - asteroids. 

In 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor strike reminded us all that Armageddon is a very real possibility. Though the asteroid was only about 65 feet wide, it managed to injure over 1,200 people and damaged countless building. Scientists have said that bigger asteroids could be capable of wiping out entire cities. 

But thanks to improvements in AI, a robotic spacecraft could save us all. That's the goal of the AIDA - Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment - mission that is currently proposed to launch in 2020. ESA's Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) and NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection (DART) would fly simultaneously to the binary asteroid system Didymos. Didymos consists of the 2,625 foot wide asteroid Didymos and its smaller "moonlet" Didymoon, which is just 560 feet in diameter. 

On Monday, a group of planetary scientists and space experts released a letter in an attempt to drum up support for the test run. The letter, which was signed by over 100 scientists, stated that of the thousands of known objects near Earth, there are currently over 1,700 considered potentially hazardous.

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"Unlike other natural disasters, this is one we know how to predict and potentially prevent with early discovery," the scientists wrote in the letter (via Space.com). "As such, it is crucial to our knowledge and understanding of asteroids to determine whether a kinetic impactor is able to deflect the orbit of such a small body, in case Earth is threatened. This is what AIDA will help us assess."
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The mission managers behind AIDA are concerned not only with testing new technology that could be crucial in protecting Earth in an oncoming asteroid attack, but also with collecting essential scientific information. Asteroids are like time capsules from the formation of the universe, so the scientists are hopeful that by studying Didymos, we could learn a great deal about conditions during the Big Bang, as well as invaluable information about asteroids themselves. 

And postponing the mission isn't a possibility; AIDA would have to launch in October 2020 in order to reach Didymos on time for the object's close approach to Earth. "It has to go in 2020. Otherwise, the opportunity is lost. It [Didymos] is an asteroid that gets pretty close to Earth, so we can, with comparatively small cost and effort, test technologies that we need for future missions that are further away," head of business for AIM Cornelius Schalinski said.

If the mission goes ahead as planned, the AIM spacecraft will launch in October 2020 and arrive at Didymos in June 2022 to study the asteroid and put a smaller lander on Didymoon. AIM will also bear witness to DART's impact with Didymoon. When DART crashes, it will slightly readjust the orbit of Didymoon, testing the type of technology that could one day be used to knock a deadly asteroid off its trajectory and save us all.



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NASA
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ESA