Sure, we landed the NEAR-Shoemaker orbiter on an asteroid in 2001, but we didn’t even try to see if we could change its orbit. Come on, everyone, we can do better. Now, the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA have announced plans to fill that gaping hole in our asteroid knowledge by smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid’s moon and watching what happens.
The mission is called AIDA (Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment) and involves two different spacecraft. The first, ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) will launch in 2020, and take two years to get to the asteroid Didymos. Once there, AIM will map Didymos and its small satellite, nicknamed “Didymoon.” Then AIM will move to a safe distance and deploy its own satellites to get an up-close-and-personal view of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft slamming into Didymoon in 2022. It will be watching to see how DART changes Didymoon’s orbit around Didymos.
Patrick Michel, the lead of the AIM Investigation Team offered this statement in a press release “To protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts, we need to understand asteroids much better – what they are made of, their structure, origins and how they respond to collisions. AIDA will be the first mission to study an asteroid binary system, as well as the first to test whether we can deflect an asteroid through an impact with a spacecraft. The European part of the mission, AIM, will study the structure of Didymoon and the orbit and rotation of the binary system, providing clues to its origin and evolution. Asteroids represent different stages in the rocky road to planetary formation, so offer fascinating snapshots into the Solar System’s history.”
Watch a very detailed explanation of the mission here (the impact starts at 3:50):
AIDA isn’t the only asteroid mission in town. NASA’s much-maligned Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is also set to launch in the 2020s where it will aim to capture a small asteroid and put it in orbit around the moon, where astronauts will be able to visit it and collect samples.