The ESA’s Hera mission has the objective to visit a binary asteroid system in 2026, after taking off in 2020, with the idea that the experiment would contribute to the planetary defense against space rocks that might collide with the Earth. The European Space Agency has given more details about the future Hera with the occasion of the International Asteroid Day which will be celebrated on June 30th.
ESA’s Hera mission is already in the engineering phase and will travel to two near-Earth asteroids which are, in fact, a binary asteroid system known as the Didymos system. This system is made up of Didymain, a 780-meter in diameter asteroid and Didymoon, a 160-meter asteroid that orbits around Didymain.
This binary asteroids system “is the perfect test bed for a planetary defense experiment, but it is also a completely new environment for asteroid investigations,” as reported Ian Carnelli, the ESA’s Hera mission’s manager.
“Although binaries represent 15% of all known asteroids, they have never been explored before, and we anticipate many surprises,” he added.
ESA’s Hera missions will focus on Didymoon
The interest of the ESA focuses on the smaller asteroid, Didymoon, which will be the smallest that a space agency has visited so far. During this mission, mappings will be conducted to know the surface and composition of this asteroid “moon.”
Also, ESA will collaborate with NASA, whose mission, Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will be crucial in asteroids deviation.
NASA’s mission will collide with Didymoon in October 2022 to divert it from its current orbit around Didymain. Therefore, this deviation, the first made by the human being, will generate changes that will be seen thanks to ESA’s Hera mission.
“The essential information will be lost after the impact of DART, and that’s where ESA’s Hera mission comes in. The investigation of Hera will give us the mass of Didymoon, the shape of the crater, as well as the physical and dynamic properties of Didymoon. All the information gathered by this mission will become a planetary defense technique that could be repeated if we ever need to stop an incoming asteroid,” said Ian Carnelli.