The Hera mission will be humanity’s first mission to a binary asteroid: the 800 m-diameter Didymos is accompanied by a 170 m-diameter secondary body. Hera will study the aftermath of the impact caused by the NASA spacecraft DART on the smaller body. Credit – ESA – Science Office
Meet Hera, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) very own asteroid detective. Hera, along with its two CubeSats, is about to set off an incredible adventure.
The two CubeSats, Milani the rock decoder, and Juventas the radar visionary are traveling with Hera on an adventure to explore Didymos, a double asteroid system that is typical of the thousands that pose an impact risk to planet Earth.
In this episode of “The Incredible Adventures of Hera,” you will be taken on a fun and informative journey to visit Didymos together with Hera. Along the way, you will discover who the main characters are, why this mission is so important, and what ESA hopes to achieve with Hera, and much more.
Before you begin your incredible adventure with Hera, we need to explain that the ESA’s Hera Mission is a planetary defense mission to a binary near-Earth asteroid system.
This mission is being performed by the ESA, in collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). JAXA is contributing the thermal imager and their extensive knowledge of asteroid science, via the heritage of Hayabusa2.
Along with NASA’s DART Mission, the technology required for planetary defense will be demonstrated, so this is a very exciting adventure.
What are asteroids?
Asteroids are primitive bodies that preserve clues to the formation and evolution of the Solar System. The sizes and shapes of asteroids vary significantly, ranging from 1-meter rocks to a dwarf planet almost 1000 km (600 miles) in diameter; they are metallic or rocky bodies with no atmosphere.
So how do you pick one asteroid out of thousands for a space mission? NASA made that tough choice with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which aims to slam a spacecraft into the moonlet Dimorphos on Sept. 27.
Choosing the right target was essential to getting the science done correctly. NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Research Laboratory, which are working together on the mission, said there were a few things that made the binary asteroid system ideal for this critical mission.
“The Didymos system is an eclipsing binary, meaning that from our vantage point on Earth, Dimorphos regularly passes in front of and behind Didymos as it orbits,” JHUAPL officials wrote in a DART fact sheet.
The test location is also ideal because the two asteroids pose no threat to our planet, mission team members emphasized. Moreover, the Didymos system is only 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth, meaning that spacecraft can get there relatively quickly.
Not only that, but the asteroid is close enough to make it easier for telescopes of multiple sizes on Earth to conduct what mission team members describe as an “observation campaign to determine the spacecraft’s effect” on the asteroid.
Stay tuned for the next episode of “The incredible adventures of the Hera mission.”