Asteroids colliding with Earth could mean the end of our planet as we know it. The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA have been working closely to find ways to deflect asteroids before they come crashing down on our shores.
What is Hera's mission?
Hera's mission is to know how to deflect asteroids away from Earth. ESA and NASA are working together to practice a particular method if such an impact were to occur.
The practice is occurring on the double asteroid, Didymos — one example out of the potential thousands of asteroids that pose a serious threat to Earth.
The mission is an incredibly hard one, as scientists have to aim at a 160-meter wide target across millions of kilometers of open void up in space.
To begin with, NASA will push its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft into the smaller Didymos asteroid at over six kilometers a second. Then, it's ESA's turn to come in. Hera's job is to map the crater left by DART and measure the asteroid's mass.
Knowing the mass is fundamental for scientists to determine what is inside the asteroid. This will then enable them to determine if deflecting it is indeed a possibility.
After these measurements are taken, briefcase-sized CubeSats with their state-of-the-art instruments will come out of Hera and land on the asteroid. The results from the CubeSats' measurements may provide the answers scientists are looking for.
In turn, this mission may save our planet from being hit by asteroids.
#Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, as a founder of @B612Foundation, has spent years studying #asteroid #PlanetaryDefense. He has strongly endorsed ESA's #HeraMission, being presented at the #Space19plus Ministerial in Spain on 27-28 November #SpaceSafety https://t.co/6EPgpnhplE pic.twitter.com/mFcRZ9sITA— ESA Technology (@ESA_Tech) November 5, 2019
What is Rusty Schweickart saying about the mission?
Schweickart's mission since departing NASA has been devoted to saving Earth from deadly asteroid collisions. He assisted in getting the B612 Foundation off the ground in 2002, which deals exclusively with the issue of asteroid impacts on Earth.
Schweickart has voiced his strong support for Hera's asteroid deflection mission, set to happen in 2022.
Talking about the mission, Schweickart said: "with Hera we’ll be able to validate a significant proportion of what an operational observer spacecraft would do: for instance, find out how precisely we can determine the post-impact orbit – what is the level of accuracy we’re going to achieve?"
He continued "And one of the key unknowns of the kinetic impactor technique is a term we call ‘beta’ – when we hit the asteroid, how much stuff is going to come flying off? If it’s moving at greater than escape velocity, then that adds to the momentum shifting the orbit, boosting the technique’s effectiveness. That factor depends on the asteroid’s composition and structure, and we need a close-up look to find out what that is."
The way Hera's plan functions, according to Schweickart, is a solid one.