Design Begins For ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission Spacecraft

Image Credit: ESA-ScienceOffice.org

Image Credit: ESA-ScienceOffice.org

May 21, 2015 – Engineers recently began the preliminary design of ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) concept. The mission is tasked to encounter and chart the Didymos double asteroid, and then witness it being struck by another spacecraft, returning data to help guide planetary defence strategies.

In October 2020, AIM will travel to a binary asteroid system – the paired Didymos asteroids, which will come a comparatively close 11 million km to Earth in 2022. The 800 m-diameter main body is orbited by a 170 m moon, informally called ‘Didymoon’. This smaller body is AIM’s focus: the spacecraft will perform high-resolution visual, thermal and radar mapping of the moon to build detailed maps of its surface and interior structure, as well as putting down a lander and deploying at least two CubeSats.

Then, in late 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) would arrive and slam at high speed into Didymoon, with AIM providing multiple viewpoints of this unique event and its aftermath, as well as detailed before-and-after impact monitoring.

AIM and DART would together form an international mission called Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment, or AIDA.

“AIDA is an exciting and economical concept for a mission to demonstrate multiple technologies and techniques that would provide high-value asteroid science and benefit planetary defense planning,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Executive. ”We are delighted that ESA has completed their AIM Pre-Phase-A study, and decided to officially move on to Phase-A concept definition. Our own DART mission is scheduled to initiate its Phase-A study in a few months.”

The combined mission concepts of AIM and DART would make the joint AIDA mission the world’s first attempt to demonstrate that international space agencies working together could protect the Earth from an asteroid impact.

AIM and Didymos binary. Image Credit: ESA – ScienceOffice.org

AIM and Didymos binary. Image Credit: ESA – ScienceOffice.org