Asteroid’s Close Approach Demonstrates Need for More Eyes in the Sky

ESA observation of 2019OK through ISON network (Credit: S. Schmalz/ISON)

PARIS (ESA PR) — On 25 July, an asteroid the size of a football field flew by Earth, coming within 65 000 km of our planet’s surface during its closest approach – about one fifth of the distance to the Moon.

The 100 m-wide asteroid dubbed ‘2019 OK’ was detected just days before it passed Earth, although archival records from sky surveys show it had previously been observed but wasn’t recognised as a near-Earth asteroid.

While 2019 OK illustrates the need for even more eyes on the sky, it also provides an opportunity to improve the asteroid recognising abilities of current and future telescopes, including ESA’s upcoming ‘Flyeye‘.

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When CubeSats Meet Asteroid

CubeSat approaching asteroid (Credit: ESA – Science Office)

TOULOUSE, France (ESA PR) — ESA’s Hera mission for planetary defence, being designed to survey the smallest asteroid ever explored, is really three spacecraft in one. The main mothership will carry two briefcase-sized CubeSats, which will touch down on the target body. A French team has been investigating what might happen at that initial instant of alien contact.

“We’ve customised an existing drop tower and rigged it up with a system of pulleys and counterweights in order to simulate a low gravity environment,” explains researcher Naomi Murdoch of the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE-Supaero), part of the University of Toulouse.

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Tunguska Revisited: 111-Year-Old Mystery Impact Inspires New, More Optimistic Asteroid Predictions

Trees flattened by the intense shock wave created in the atmosphere as the space rock exploded above Tunguska on June 30, 1908. The photograph was taken by the Soviet Academy of Science 1929 expedition led by Leonid Kulik. 500,000 acres, the size of a large metropolitan city, were flattened. Flattening trees requires an immense shock wave. #WorldAsteroidDay is held every June 30 as a global awareness campaign where people around the world come together to share knowledge about asteroids and learn how to protect our planet. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Every single day, many tons of tiny rocks – smaller than pebbles – hit the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate. Between frequent shooting stars we wish on in the night sky and the massive extinction-level asteroids that we hope we never see, there is a middle ground of rocks sized to make it through the atmosphere and do serious damage to a limited area. Now, new research from NASA indicates that the impacts of these mid-size rocks may be less frequent than previously thought.

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — The research revealed that such relatively small but regionally devastating impacts happen on the order of millennia – not centuries, as previously thought. In addition, the new research has pushed forward our knowledge about the complex processes that determine how large rocks from space break up when entering Earth’s atmosphere.

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NASA’s First Planetary Defense Technology Demonstration to Collide with Asteroid in 2022

DART mission (Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

by Justyna Surowiec
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – NASA’s first mission to demonstrate a planetary defense technique – will get one chance to hit its target, the small moonlet in the binary asteroid system Didymos. The asteroid poses no threat to Earth and is an ideal test target: measuring the change in how the smaller asteroid orbits about the larger asteroid in a binary system is much easier than observing the change in a single asteroid’s orbit around the Sun. Work is ramping up at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and other locations across the country, as the mission heads toward its summer 2021 launch – and attempts to pull off a feat so far seen only in science fiction films.

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Hera’s CubeSat to Perform First Radar Probe of an Asteroid

Juventas CubeSat (Credit: ESA/GomSpace)

PARIS, 1 May 2019 (ESA PR) — Small enough to be an aircraft carry-on, the Juventas spacecraft nevertheless has big mission goals. Once in orbit around its target body, Juventas will unfurl an antenna larger than itself, to perform the very first subsurface radar survey of an asteroid.

ESA’s proposed Hera mission for planetary defence will explore the twin Didymos asteroids, but it will not go there alone: it will also serve as mothership for Europe’s first two ‘CubeSats’ to travel into deep space.

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Hera’s APEX CubeSat Will Reveal the Stuff Asteroids are Made of

 

APEX CubeSat at Didymos. (Credit: Tomi Kärkkäinen / Reaktor Space Lab)

PARIS (ESA PR) — From Earth asteroids appear as little more than dots in the sky. Europe’s miniature APEX spacecraft will operate as a mineral prospector in deep space, surveying the make-up of its target asteroids down to individual boulders, helping prepare the way for future mining missions.

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Scientists Planning Now for Asteroid Flyby a Decade Away

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — On April 13, 2029, a speck of light will streak across the sky, getting brighter and faster. At one point it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper. But it won’t be a satellite or an airplane – it will be a 1,100-foot-wide (340-meter-wide) near-Earth asteroid called 99942 Apophis that will cruise harmlessly by Earth, about 19,000 miles (31,000 kilometers) above the surface. That’s within the distance that some of our spacecraft that orbit Earth.

The international asteroid research community couldn’t be more excited.

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The Day the Asteroid Might Hit

Asteroid Itokawa (Credit: JAXA)

WASHINGTON (ESA PR) — For the first time, ESA will cover a major international asteroid impact exercise live via social media, highlighting the the actions that might be taken by scientists, space agencies and civil protection organisations.

Every two years, asteroid experts from across the globe come together to simulate a fictional but plausible imminent asteroid impact on Earth. During the week-long scenario, participants – playing roles such as ‘national government’, ‘space agency’, ‘astronomer’ and ‘civil protection office’ – don’t know how the situation will evolve from one day to the next, and must make plans based on the daily updates they are given.

For the first time, ESA will cover progress of the hypothetical impact scenario from 29 April to 3 May live via social media, primarily via the @esaoperations Twitter channel.
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Earth vs. Asteroids: Humans Strike Back

SCI impactor on way to Ryugu asteroid (Credit: JAXA/The University of Tokyo/Kochi University/Rikkyo University/Nagoya University/Chiba Institute of Technology/Meiji University/The University of Aizu/AIST)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Incoming asteroids have been scarring our home planet for billions of years. This month humankind left our own mark on an asteroid for the first time: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft dropped a copper projectile at very high speed in an attempt to form a crater on asteroid Ryugu. A much bigger asteroid impact is planned for the coming decade, involving an international double-spacecraft mission.

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Self-driving Spacecraft Set for Planetary Defense Expedition

Hera uses infrared to scan impact crater (Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Engineers designing ESA’s Hera planetary defence mission to the Didymos asteroid pair are developing advanced technology to let the spacecraft steer itself through space, taking a similar approach to self-driving cars.

“If you think self-driving cars are the future on Earth, then Hera is the pioneer of autonomy in deep space,” explains Paolo Martino, lead systems engineer of ESA’s proposed Hera mission. “While the mission is designed to be fully operated manually from ground, the new technology will be tested once the core mission objectives are achieved and higher risks can be taken.”

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SpaceX Wins NASA Launch Contract for Asteroid Redirect Test Mission

DART mission profile (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, the first-ever mission to demonstrate the capability to deflect an asteroid by colliding a spacecraft with it at high speed – a technique known as a kinetic impactor.

The total cost for NASA to launch DART is approximately $69 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

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CubeSats Joining Hera Mission to Asteroid System

Hera at Didymos (Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org)

PARIS (ESA PR) — When ESA’s planned Hera mission journeys to its target binary asteroid system, it will not be alone. The spacecraft will carry two tiny CubeSats for deployment around – and eventual landing on – the Didymos asteroids. Each companion spacecraft will be small enough to fit inside a briefcase, as compared to the desk-sized Hera.

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Planetary Defense: The Bennu Experiment

This artist’s concept shows the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft contacting the asteroid Bennu with the Touch-And-Go Sample Arm Mechanism or TAGSAM. The mission aims to return a sample of Bennu’s surface coating to Earth for study as well as return detailed information about the asteroid and it’s trajectory. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On Dec. 3, after traveling billions of kilometers from Earth, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached its target, Bennu, and kicked off a nearly two-year, up-close investigation of the asteroid. It will inspect nearly every square inch of this ancient clump of rubble left over from the formation of our solar system. Ultimately, the spacecraft will pick up a sample of pebbles and dust from Bennu’s surface and deliver it to Earth in 2023.

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ESA Choosing CubeSats for Hera Asteroid Mission

Hera CubeSats deployed. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — As the world marvels at the hopping mini-rovers deployed on asteroid Ryugu by Japan’s Hayabusa2, ESA is due to decide on the CubeSats planned for delivery to a binary asteroid system by its proposed Hera mission.

CubeSats are nanosatellites based on standardised 10 cm-sized units. This week an ESA evaluation board decides which two ‘6-unit’ CubeSat missions will ride with the next-decade Hera mission to the Didymos asteroid system. The CubeSats will be deployed around the smaller of the two bodies for eventual landing.

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Planetary Defense Has New Tool in Weather Satellite Lightning Detector

On December 29, 2017, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper, an instrument flying on board two weather satellites, detected a bright meteor in Earth’s atmosphere over the western Atlantic Ocean. (Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s efforts to better understand asteroid impacts has found unexpected support from a new satellite sensor designed to detect lightning. New research published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that the new Geostationary Lightning Mapper, or GLM, on two weather satellites is able to pick up signals of meteors in Earth’s atmosphere.

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