Elon Musk is going to help NASA save Earth from an asteroid collision



The views of the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx on the north pole of the asteroid Bennu, during the initial recognition of the probe on December 4, 2018.

The views of the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx on the north pole of the asteroid Bennu, during the initial recognition of the probe on December 4, 2018.

If an asteroid hits the Earth, our most powerful heroes will not be The Avengers. It may very well be Elon Musk.

NASA announced on Thursday that it had awarded a contract to SpaceX, the space exploration company led by Musk, to help with the diversion of asteroids through its mission of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

The contract, which costs $ 69 million, will be "the first mission to demonstrate the ability to deflect an asteroid by colliding with a high-speed spacecraft, a technique known as kinetic impactor," according to a government statement. space agency.

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The asteroid it targets is Didymoon, the small space rock that actually orbits the larger Didymos asteroid. The mission is scheduled for a launch in June 2021 on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

"By using electric solar propulsion, DART will intercept the small moon of the asteroid Didymos in October 2022, when the asteroid is 11 million kilometers from Earth," NASA explained.

Separately, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon Heavy rocket on Thursday, more than a year after sending a "Red Roadster" on its initial test flight. Now, the most powerful operating rocket in the world with 27 engines that fire in the takeoff, Falcon Heavy was launched with the Arabsat-6A, a satellite from Saudi Arabia built by Lockheed Martin and operated by Saudi Arabia.

NASA congratulated SpaceX on a tweet, saying it "will continue to support the growing commercial space economy." Musk later grateful NASA for the support.

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Defense of didymos

Didymos is getting a lot of attention this week, as the European Space Agency said it is developing an autonomous vehicle for its planetary defense mission Hera to the asteroid, which could happen in 2023.

"If you believe that the cars you drive on your own are the future on Earth, then Hera is the pioneer of deep space autonomy," Paolo Martino, chief systems engineer at the Hera mission, said in a statement. THAT. "While the mission is designed to be fully operated from the ground, the new technology will be tested once the objectives of the main mission are achieved and greater risks can be taken."

By granting autonomy to Hera, it should allow the spacecraft to approach a distance of 200 meters (656 feet) from the surface of Didymoon, which would allow it to make observations of up to 2 centimeters per pixel.

According to Space.com, Hera, who will only start testing the autonomous system once all the main objectives have been completed, is only a small part of the mission of Asteroid Impact and Deflection Evaluation (AIDA).

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The AIDA mission also includes a NASA spacecraft aimed at the same asteroid system, where its mission of Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is programmed to crash into the surface of an asteroid and have two smaller cubosats examine the surface.

Asteroids, dismantle

NASA has recently expanded its planetary defense protocols, including last year's presentation of a bold new plan to protect the Earth.

Last June, NASA released a 20-page plan that details the steps that the US has taken. UU They should continue to be better prepared for near-Earth objects (NEOs), such as asteroids and comets that are 30 million miles from the planet.

Lindley Johnson, the planetary defense officer of the space agency, said at that time that the country "already has significant scientific, technical and operational capabilities" to help with the NEO, but the implementation of the new plan "would greatly increase the preparation of our nation and working with international partners. " to respond effectively if a new potential impact of asteroids is detected. "

In addition to improving NEO detection, tracking and characterization capabilities and improving modeling prediction, the plan also aims to develop technologies to bypbad NEOs, increase international cooperation and establish new NEO impact emergency procedures and protocols. .

According to a 2018 report prepared by Planetary.org, there are more than 18,000 NEOs.

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