AIDA mission tests defense against asteroids

Robert Klatt

In two days it will be examined for the first time whether an asteroid on a collision course with Earth can be deflected from its trajectory by the impact of a probe.

Paris, France). A large asteroid could cause catastrophic damage if it collided with Earth. Science is therefore looking for methods to defend against asteroids on a collision course. According to physicists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, this would be possible with atomic bombs that burst an asteroid into small pieces. Scientists from China’s National Space Science Center have also carried out a simulation that suggests that if several rockets hit an asteroid, it could affect its trajectory. In reality, however, neither of the two options has yet been tried.

The one starting on November 24, 2021 Mission AIDA (Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment) will change that. As part of the joint mission carried out by ESA and NASA, a probe will hit a double asteroid. Both double asteroids should thereby change their trajectory.

Double asteroids affect their trajectory

“If two asteroids orbit each other and I shoot a probe at the smaller of the two, then I change the orbital time of the two asteroids,” explains Detlef Koschny from ESA. A NASA drone will be launched in November 2021. This should hit the smaller rock lump of the double asteroid Didymos and thereby change its orbit. Then the smaller asteroid with the unofficial name Didymoon will have a new crater and orbit the larger asteroid on a slightly different orbit.

The speed at which Didymos orbits the larger asteroid is 50 centimeters per second. According to the scientists’ calculations, it would be enough to change this speed by a few millimeters per second, because this adds up. “The object would soon be in a place in its orbit where it would not have been if we hadn’t bumped it,” explains Andrew Rivkin of the Applied Physics Laboratory.

ESA probe controls flight path

A second ESA drone then examines whether Didymoon’s flight path was really changed by the impact. The second drone will be launched around two years after the collision with the asteroid Didymos.

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