Scientists voice support for asteroid deflection mission

Scientists in Europe want to ensure the European Space Agency doesn’t abandon its plans to study and test the latest asteroid deflection technologies.

In a letter addressed to ESA, scientists encouraged the space agency to continue lending organizational and financial support to the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission.

AIDA is a collaboration between ESA and NASA. It involves two planned spacecraft, AIM and DART. Mission leaders hope to launch the two probes, which have yet to be built, in 2020.

As the mission is currently proposed, ESA’s AIM probe would orbit and map an asteroid moon, or minor-planet moon, before NASA’s DART probe would crash into the object’s surface in an attempt to redirect its trajectory.

Signatories of the letter argue AIM is the logical next step in the quest for greater understanding of comets, asteroids and near-Earth objects.

“We want to make sure that the heritage of Rosetta, in terms of technology and expertise, continues — leading to new missions and further innovation,” scientists wrote. “As citizens of our solar system, we need to expand our body of knowledge of the universe in which we live.”

Though there are no imminent collisions currently predicted, scientists have identified more than 1,700 potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, or NEOs — objects that could pose a direct threat in the future.

“As such, it is crucial to our knowledge and understanding of asteroids to determine whether a kinetic impactor is able to deflect the orbit of such a small body, in case Earth is threatened,” researchers wrote. “This is what AIDA will help us assess.”

The target best suited for the mission’s objectives is a binary asteroid system called Didymos, which consists of a larger asteroid and a smaller asteroid moon. To reach Didymos in time for its closest approach to Earth in 2022, the AIDA mission would need to launch in October 2020.

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