Asteroids: ESA launches major planetary defense project
Although there is a very small chance of an asteroid collision, the chances are still there, which is why space agencies are now taking steps in developing measures that could protect the planet from major collisions. The European Space Agency recently launched its major planetary defense project that could help protect Earth from potential collisions, especially from massive asteroids.
Millions of years ago, a major asteroid collision was responsible for setting off the extinction of the dinosaurs. Chances are, this could happen again and this time, humanity could be at risk. The ESA is moving forward with its plans to probe one particular asteroid, and the agency has awarded a Germany-based space company OHB a £118 million contract. The company will be designing, manufacturing, and testing of HERA, the ESA’s contribution to a global effort in planetary defense known as AIDA or Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment.
The HERA mission is unmanned and will closely explore a double-asteroid system. HERA will also work together with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test or DART probe. The US’s contribution is set to launch in July 2021 where it will perform a “kinetic impact” on the smaller asteroid of the two asteroids it is set on probing.
HERA will be following and will conduct a post-impact assessment to turn it into a potential asteroid deflection technique. HERA will also be deploying tiny CubeSats into space to survey the asteroid up close. This will include a potential interior probe with a radar array, which would be the first of its kind.
Onto more asteroids, this week saw one particular rock fly closer to Earth, known as 2020 RF3. This asteroid flew by in one lunar distance, and is also the 61st asteroid to do so this year. Astronomers only picked up on the asteroid during the weekend before it arrived on September 15. 2020 RF3 was discovered using the PAN-STARRS telescope from Hawaii and it got as close as 92,000 kilometers from Earth.
2020 RF3 is also a relatively small asteroid, measuring between 5.3 and 12 meters in diameter. RF3 would then be classified as a Near-Earth Object or NEO but does not pose a threat to Earth even with its distance.