Hera and its Asteroid Target

ESA’s Hera mission for planetary defence seen approaching the Dimorphos asteroid moonlet. (Credit: OHB)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s Hera mission for planetary defence seen approaching the Dimorphos asteroid moonlet, which is destined to become the subject of an audacious deflection experiment.

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NASA’s First Planetary Defense Mission Target Gets a New Name

DART mission profile (Credit: NASA)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Nearly two decades ago, a near-Earth asteroid was discovered to have a moon and the binary system was given the name “Didymos”—Greek for “twin,” a loose description of the larger main body and the smaller orbiting moon, which became unofficially known as Didymos B. 

In 2022, that moon will be the target of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the first full-scale demonstration of an asteroid deflection technology for planetary defense. The DART spacecraft will execute a kinetic impact, deliberately crashing into the asteroid to change its motion in space. To mark this historic mission, Didymos B is getting an official name of its own: Dimorphos.

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GAO: NASA Performance on Major Projects Continues to Deteriorate

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest assessment of NASA’s major projects at the end of April. It found that NASA’s performance on its major projects continued to deteriorate on cost and schedule. (Full Report)

Below are key excerpts from the report that provide an overview of where NASA stands on its major projects. Although GAO did not analyze the Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon, the watchdog warned the Trump Administration’s decision to move the landing date up from 2028 to 2024 will put more pressure on the space agency.

“Looking ahead, NASA will continue to face significant cost and schedule risks as it undertakes complex efforts to return to the moon under an aggressive time frame,” the report stated.

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Queen’s Brian May Works to Probe Origin of Asteroids

Brian May (Credit: ESA)

NICE, France (ESA PR) — Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May has teamed up with asteroid researchers to investigate striking similarities and a puzzling difference between separate bodies explored by space probes. The research team ran a supercomputer-based ‘fight club’ involving simulated large asteroid collisions to probe the objects’ likely origins. Their work is reported in Nature Communications.  

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DART Mission To Deflect Asteroid Moves Toward Early 2022 Launch

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s planetary defense mission to deflect a small asteroid continues to move toward a February 2022 launch date while holding to its $313.9 million budget, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will fly to the binary asteroid Didymos and impact the smaller of the two bodies to assess techniques for deflecting dangerous asteroids on collision courses with Earth.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Delivers DART Propulsion Systems Ahead of 2021 Asteroid Impact Mission

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

REDMOND, Wash., May 19, 2020 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) – The dual chemical and electric propulsion systems for NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) were recently delivered by Aerojet Rocketdyne to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

The chemical propulsion system and the electric propulsion Xenon feed system have been undergoing assembly and integration onto the spacecraft structure at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility in Redmond, Washington, since August 2019.

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Powerful Thruster Prepared for Planetary Defense Demonstration Mission to Asteroid

The NEXT-C flight thruster is mounted within a thermal shroud in one of NASA Glenn’s vacuum chambers. The thermal shroud subjects the thruster to the extreme thermal environments it has been designed to withstand. (Credits: NASA/Bridget Caswell)

CLEVELAND (NASA PR) — After undergoing a series of performance and environmental tests, NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C) is being prepared for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, which will launch next year.

This image shows the NEXT-C flight thruster operating within the vacuum chamber during thermal vacuum testing. Photo credit: NASA. (Credits: NASA)

In the past few months, the thruster, developed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and designed and built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, was put through vibration, thermal vacuum and performance tests and then integrated with its power processing unit. The environmental testing verified that NEXT-C could withstand the extreme launch vibrations and temperatures of spaceflight.

DART will be the first space mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection by kinetic impact, a technique that could prevent a hazardous asteroid from impacting Earth by changing the motion of the asteroid in space. NEXT-C’s propulsion system will be tested on that mission, along with several other technologies.

The power processing unit of the thruster is removed from another vacuum chamber after successful testing. (Credits: NASA/Bridget Caswell)

When the propulsion system is successfully demonstrated on DART, NEXT-C will be considered on a variety of 10 to 15 year-long, uncrewed missions that could include going to other asteroids, comets or planets such as Venus.

Lunar Gateway: Earth’s Guard Post Against Asteroids?

The Gateway concept (Credit: NASA/ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Humankind’s next space outpost, the lunar Gateway, will serve as a staging point to reach the surface of the Moon. A new ESA-backed study is considering whether it could also be used as a deployment point for planetary defence missions, to intercept asteroids approaching dangerously close to Earth.

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NASA Budget Proposal Laser Focused on the Moon

Astronauts on a future lunar walk. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Determined to land astronauts on the moon in time for the 2024 presidential election, the Trump Administration has proposed boosting NASA’s budget by 12 percent, an increase that includes $3.37 billion program for a human lander.

The $25.2 billion plan for fiscal year 2021 is $2.69 billion above the current spending level. More than half the amount, $12.95 billion, would be spent on human space operations in Earth orbit and preparing for missions to the moon.

How the proposal will fair in Congress is unclear. To boost Artemis spending, the Administration has proposed a number of cuts that Congress has rejected in previous Trump budgets. Those reductions include:

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Germany Invests 3.3 Billion Euros in European Space Exploration, Becomes ESA’s Largest Contributor

  • Three years after the last ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, held in Lucerne, Switzerland, government representatives from the 22 Member States met in Seville, Spain, on 27 and 28 November 2019 and committed a total of almost 14.4 billion euro [$15.87 billion] for space programmes over the next few years.
  • Germany is contributing 3.3 billion euro [$3.6 billion] to ESA programmes focusing on Earth observation, telecommunications, technological advancement and commercialisation / NewSpace.
  • At 22.9 percent, Germany is now ESA’s largest contributor, followed by France (18.5 percent, 2.66 billion euro), Italy (15.9 percent, 2.28 billion euro) and the United Kingdom (11.5 percent, 1.65 billion euro).
  • The ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level is the highest political decision-making body, and it defines the content and financial framework for ESA’s space programmes every two to three years.
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Ministers Approve ESA’s Hera Asteroid Mission

SEVILLE, Spain (ESA PR) — Europe’s space ministers gathered at Space19+ in Seville, Spain in November 2019 have approved ESA’s Hera asteroid mission for construction and launch, as part of the Agency’s broader planetary defence initiatives that aim to protect European and world citizens.

Hera will be humanity’s first-ever spacecraft to visit a double asteroid, the Didymos binary system. First, NASA will crash its DART spacecraft into the smaller asteroid – known as Didymoon – before ESA’s Hera comes in to map the resulting impact crater and measure the asteroid’s mass.

Hera will carry two CubeSats on board, which will be able to fly much closer to the asteroid’s surface, carrying out crucial scientific studies, before touching down. Hera’s up-close observations will turn asteroid deflection into a well-understood planetary defence technique.

Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweickart Champions ESA’s Hera Mission for Planetary Defense

Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart at Noordwijk’s Walk of Space, where his handprint joined those other space luminaries, during his visit to the Netherlands in October 2019. (Credit: ESA)

NOORDWIJK, Netherlands (ESA PR) — Having spent much of the 21st century developing planetary defence techniques, Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart is a strong supporter of ESA’s proposed Hera mission. In general, when it comes to asteroid deflection, he says, two spacecraft are better than one.

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NASA Plans Space Telescope to Hunt for Killer Asteroids

Asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft. (Credit: Planetary Society – Emily Lakdawalla)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA announced on Monday that it is planning to spend $500 to $600 million to develop the NEO Surveillance Mission that would begin hunting for large asteroids and comets that could strike Earth.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, made the announcement during a meeting of the Planetary Science Advisory Committee held in Washington, D.C. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) would lead the project, which would launch around 2025.

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Europe, U.S. Teaming Up for Asteroid Deflection

ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission is joined by two triple-unit CubeSats to observe the impact of the NASA-led Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) probe with the secondary Didymos asteroid, planned for late 2022. (Credit: ESA – ScienceOffice.org)

ROME (ESA PR) — Asteroid researchers and spacecraft engineers from the US, Europe and around the world will gather in Rome next week to discuss the latest progress in their common goal: an ambitious double-spacecraft mission to deflect an asteroid in space, to prove the technique as a viable method of planetary defence.

This combined mission is known as the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment, or AIDA for short. Its purpose is to deflect the orbit of the smaller body of the double Didymos asteroids between Earth and Mars through an impact by one spacecraft. Then a second spacecraft will survey the crash site and gather the maximum possible data on the effect of this collision.

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