Planetary Scientists Will Not Give Up on The Future of Asteroid Deflection Mission
Jan 24, 2017 10:32 AM EST
A joint robotic mission between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) that would deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth was stopped due to decline funding from the European governments. The mission was to have two spacecraft that would trek on a two-year journey to Didymos, an asteroid that is half-mile-wide away from the earth, alongside a companion moon.
The mission, predicted to be launched in 2020, is designed to be an impactor, aiming to crash into Didymos's 500-foot-wide moon. A European mission would arrive at Didymos before the U.S. impactor, called the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) carrying a single instrument - a long-range and high-resolution camera based on the LORRI imager aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft used for the Pluto observations in 2015. The camera would aid DART's navigation toward the target and collect close-up imagery on final approach, recording before-and-after observations to measure out its effects.
The DART mission passed two NASA reviews last year but was delayed from October to March 9 at a NASA decision gate that necessitates the furtherment of the project, due to paperwork issues. DART's development continues with "bridge funding" for the next few months until the decision gets finalized in March, allowing it to enter the next phase of the project, and keep the mission on schedule for a late 2020 or early 2021 liftoff.
While the uncertain future of the DART mission is being weighed by NASA officials, ESA is considering a lighter version of AIM with a reduced science payload. The AIMlight industrial study is expected to be done before June and will be reviewed by ESA for approval. If it deems appropriate for approval, a proposal will be made to the agency's member states for final funding decisions.
Luxembourg, Spain, Romania, Poland, Portugal, and the Czech Republic were among AIM's financial backers up until the last budget meeting. One of the giant funders of ESA, Germany, was also interested in the mission, but somehow withdrew its support in favor of a space station launch and other programs. That might change if a much achievable AIMlight proposal comes forward.
"Planetary defense, as it is officially called, is an important issue for the general public. So we are trying to push to get something done," Woerner, the ESA Director General said on Wednesday, according to the news from Spaceflight Now. "I am not giving up because the member states, the ministers, have asked me not to give up."