Washington – On September 15, the European Space Agency finalized a 129.4 million euro ($ 153.3 million) contract with the German satellite manufacturer OHB for the construction of its Hera asteroid spacecraft with the Pan-European Union.
OHB17 will lead a team of companies from ESA member states that will complete Hera before its October 2024 launch. Hera is scheduled to reach a binary asteroid pair called Didymos and Dimorphos in late 2026 for a minimum six-month study of the asteroid system.
Hera is ESA’s second attempt to send an asteroid to a planetary defense mission. This falls heavily on an earlier program called the Asteroid Impact Mission that was canceled in 2016 after it failed to secure funding.
Hera will follow NASA’s dual asteroid redirection test, or DART, scheduled to launch in July 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The DART will crash into the smallest size of two asteroids in September 2022, testing a technique to deflect the asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
Although the DART will carry a CubeSat co-passenger, which will be released before the collision to conduct fly-bys after a collision, will provide a more in-depth assessment of the Hera impact and determine how much the asteroids’ orbit has changed .
Hera, according to the ESA, aims to convert the results of the DART “from a grand-scale experiment to a well-understood and repetitive asteroid deflection technique.”
According to the agency, some 15% of asteroids are in binary orbits. In the binary system DART and Hera will visit, Dimorphos is 160 meters in diameter and is about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza, while its larger partner measures 780 meters and is the size of a mountain. Material extracted from the impact of DART is expected to land on both asteroids.
OHB’s contract includes design, integration and testing of Hera. The 1,050-kg spacecraft will carry two CubeSats, one from Gomespace and one from Tyvac International, for which ESA is negotiating a final contract.
Gomespace plans to build the Juventus Cubesat in Luxembourg, which will scan the interior of Dimorphos using low-frequency radar.
Italian-led Milano CubeSat from Tyvak International will conduct dust and mineral prospecting studies.
Hera will act as a carrier for two cubes and as a relay station for communication with Earth for spacecraft. The ESA will control the Hera mission from the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.