Asteroid Crash, Spacecraft To Target Didymos 2022

By Hilda Scott , Mar 22, 2013 04:42 PM EDT

The European Space Agency and United States scientists plan to crash a spacecraft into an enormous nearby asteroid. The space smash is set to happen in 2022 and its purpose is to get a look at the inside of the asteroid.

Scientists will launch two spacecraft in 2019 for the European-led project called Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission (AIDA).  One spacecraft built by European scientists and one built by U.S scientists will be sent to the asteroid named Didymos. The voyage will take three years and Didymous is the ideal target, since it poses no threat to Earth, according to scientists.

Didymos is made up of two separate space rocks that are tied together by the force of gravity. This is known as a binary system and the main asteroid is huge compared to its companion rock. One asteroid is 2,625 feet wide and orbits around a smaller asteroid which is roughly 490 feet in width.

"Binary systems are quite common. This will be our first rendezvous with a binary system," said Andy Rivkin, a scientist at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., working on the U.S. portion of AIDA project.

Rivkin and his team are working on constructing a spacecraft called DART, which stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. DART is one of the two spacecrafts that will crash into the smaller portion on the Didymos binary system at a speed of 14,000 mph. If all goes as planned, the collision will send the space rock slightly off course, forming a crater during impact.

The European Space Agency is working on the second spacecraft called AIM, short for Asteroid Impact Monitor. From a safe distance, AIM will watch the impact and data from AIM and other telescopes on Earth will be used to detect and understand the results of the DART impact on the asteroid.

"AIM is the usual shoebox satellite. It's nothing very fancy," said ESA researcher Jens Biele, who works on the AIM spacecraft.  

Once DART impacts the asteroid, scientists will see if its orbit was affected by the crash and also determine what the asteroid is made out of. It's unclear at the moment if it's made from a group of rocks travelling through the solar system or something denser. AIDA team scientists timed their mission for 2022 since Didymous will be at a close approach, at 6.8 million miles from Earth.

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