A ship & # 39; Self-controlled & # 39; could help save Earth from asteroid collisions

The next European asteroid mission, which could be launched in 2023, will be based on the same type of navigation technology as automatic cars.

Called "Hera" by the Greek goddess of marriage, this proposal planetary defense the mission would visit the asteroid 65803 Didymos of 2,550 feet wide (780 meters) and its small satellite, an object of 160 meters (525 feet) dubbed informally as "Didymoon".

While missions in deep space generally depend on the controllers that are on Earth to send navigation commands, Hera will have a built-in automatic navigation system. This will allow Hera to address herself in real time instead of waiting several minutes to receive a command signal sent from Earth. .

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"If you believe that the cars you drive on your own are the future on Earth, then Hera is the pioneer of autonomy in deep space," Paolo Martino, lead systems engineer at Hera, he said in a statement. Having an autonomous navigation system will allow the spacecraft to fly closer to Didymos and Didymoon, which will allow it to take better high-resolution images of its surfaces, officials of the European Space Agency (ESA) said in the statement.

Like a car, the Hera spacecraft will rely on data from sensors, cameras and lasers "to build a coherent model of its environment," said Jesús Gil Fernández, a guidance, navigation and control engineer at ESA. declaration.

An artistic impression of the Hera spacecraft from the European Space Agency.

An artistic impression of the Hera spacecraft from the European Space Agency.

(Image: © ESA)

Hera will not fully trust her autopilot for this first mission. The mission is still designed to be operated from the ground, and will not start testing the new system until all of the mission's main objectives are complete, Hera said.

Hera is part of the larger asteroid impact and deflection evaluation mission (AIDA), which also includes a NASA spacecraft that will be directed to the same asteroid system. The mission of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) aims to crash a spacecraft on the surface of the asteroid, and the spacecraft will bring with it two small cubesats That will examine the surface of the asteroid.

While the mission of DART is to crash into the asteroidThe mission of Hera is to orbit the asteroid and observe the collision from a safe distance before descending to study closely the impact crater. The objective of the mission is to demonstrate a planetary defense strategy known as asteroid deviation. In other words, scientists want to find out if it is possible to save Earth from a potentially catastrophic asteroid attack by launching a spacecraft against the asteroid to divert it from its course.

Send an email to Hanneke Weitering at [email protected] or follow it @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and in Facebook.

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