ESA and NASA’s Asteroid Mission Aim to Prevent the Armageddon

December 3, 2019

by Andreea Sterea

NASA will soon shot an asteroid. ESA will go examine the “corpse.” All in the name of Armageddon prevention.

ESA and NASA’s Joint Asteroid Mission: A Planetary Effort

Do you know those fake news mass hysteria (almost annual) moments when yet another asteroid or meteorite hit the Earth and we all go boom? Well, while it did not happen in our lifetime yet, it might actually happen sometime. This is what NASA and ESA want to prevent with their joint asteroid mission.

There is no asteroid coming towards us, so this mission isn’t a salvation one, but has a more scientific flair to it. Both agencies want to see if, in the case of such a threat coming from space, humankind could prevent the End of Days by crashing a spaceship into a binary asteroid.

This is how things are going to go down.

NASA will start first by testing whether deflection could save the planet from a rogue asteroid coming our way. In order to do so, the agency will send the collider (the Double Asteroid Impact Test or DART). The spacecraft will smash into a double-asteroid system called Didymos. This binary asteroid is somewhere between Earth and Mars. NASA aims to deflect the orbit of the smaller sibling of the two asteroid – Didymoon. By small we mean that Didymoon is the size of the Giza Great Pyramid. If it impacted the Earth, it would erase a city from existence.

The American agency hopes to launch the collision spacecraft in the summer of 2021 and crash it into Didymoon at 14,764MPH. For the first time in history, humankind is ready and capable of trying to shift the orbit of a celestial body to avoid unfathomable destruction.

esa nasa joint asteroid mission

The ESA’s HERA Asteroid Mission Will Go Inspect the Results

At the moment of impact between NASA’s DART and the smaller asteroid (estimated to take place by the end of 2022), an Italian cubesat (LICIACube) will be there to observe and analyze the event. After that, the ESA will launch a HERA probe (around October 2024) to study the effects of the crash on the target asteroid. ESA hopes to find relevant information on the impact crater, mass, orbital shift, and more.

The ESA and NASA chose this particular couple of asteroids because scientists can realistically record the results. The smaller asteroid is small enough and orbits slow enough so we could significantly change its orbit. However, we could not do the same for those massive objects flying solo in a solar orbit.

According to the ESA, the aim of the joint asteroid mission is to

“Turn asteroid deflection into a well-understood planetary defense technique”

We Won’t Go Quietly Into the Night

…nor will we have to sacrifice Bruce Willis again for the greater good of humankind. Jokes and spoilers aside, the joint ESA and NASA asteroid mission aims to offer us all a better understanding on how we could defend the planet in the case of a real crisis. Deflecting an Armageddon-like asteroid is a serious mission and we hope both agencies will prove successful in their endeavors.

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