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The European Space Agency (ESA) signed on Tuesday in Darmstadt with the German space specialist OHB System the first major industrial contract for the HERA mission of planetary defense and asteroid exploration.
This planetary defense mission, presented as “life insurance” for the Earth, is part of a program, AIDA, carried out with NASA, to protect itself from an asteroid which would threaten the Earth.
“Europe and the United States will be able to test once and for all an asteroid deflection technique. Of all natural phenomena, the impact of asteroids is the only one that can be predicted and that we can avoid “, welcomed Ian Carenelli, the head of the HERA mission, at a press conference.
HERA forms a tandem with DART, a space vehicle slated for launch in July 2021 and slated to crash the following year on the moon of the asteroid Didymos, called Dimorphos.
This system of “near-Earth” binary asteroids evolves periodically near the Earth. The impact of an object like Didymos – 160 meters long, roughly the size of the Giza pyramid – on Earth would have catastrophic consequences.
After the impact on Didymos, DART must assess the possibility of deviating from its trajectory an object threatening our planet.
The HERA probe will take over: it must leave the Kourou launch base in 2024 to observe, two years later, the result of the DART mission and to do “its own investigation into the scene of the accident”, according to the ESA.
She will also be able to study in an unprecedented way the entrails of Dimorphos, exposed by the impact.
An asteroid impact on Earth is a “very low probability phenomenon: for the moment, there is no identified threat to the asteroid risk, but we know that in the long term, it will happen. It is therefore better to be ready before you need it “, commented Patrick Michel, the scientific manager of the mission.
The contract awarded to OHB System, worth 130 million euros for a total of 300 million for the mission of ESA, includes the detailed design, manufacture and testing of HERA.
© 2020 AFP