Scientists at the European Space Agency is planning a test mission to blast an asteroid to see if it's possible to change the course of any that may potentially be heading towards the Earth. The mission, called Don Quixote, launches in 2015.
Don Quixote will help ESA learn more about how Earth can protect itself against a potential threat if an asteroid collision threat, the agency said. The Don Quijote mission will involve launching two spacecrafts in separate interplanetary trajectories, according to ESA.
There is an orbiter spacecraft, called Sancho After, that will arrive at the target asteroid and insert into an orbit around it. That Orbiter will measure its position, shape, mass, and gravity field for several months before and after the impact of the second spacecraft. Moreover, the Orbiter will operate as a backup data relay for transferring all the data collected by the Impactor spacecraft during approach and image the impact from a safe parking position, ESA said, and it will also investigate the surface composition of the asteroid.
The second spacecraft, an Impactor spacecraft, named Hidalgo, will take a different route from the one taken by the Orbiter. It will impact an asteroid of approximately 500 meters diameter at a relative speed of about 10 kilometers per second, ESA said.
This spacecraft will demonstrate the ability to autonomously hit the target asteroid based on onboard high-resolution camera.
The main objective of the Don Quijote mission is to impact the target Near-Earth Asteroid and to be able to determine the deflection resulting from the impact. In order to achieve this, it will accurately measure the asteroid's position in space before and after impact.
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The key moment of the Don Quijote mission: the Impactor spacecraft (Hidalgo) smashes into the asteroid while observed, from a safe distance, by the Orbiter spacecraft (Sancho) Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab
The Don Quijote mission under study is based on two phases. In the first phase a spacecraft (Sanchez) would rendezvous with an asteroid and go into orbit around it, monitoring it for several months. In the second phase another spacecraft would slam into the asteroid, while the first spacecraft watches, looking for any changes in the asteroid's trajectory. If it becomes a reality, Don Quijote would launch sometime early in the next decade. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab
The moments before impact... The Impactor spacecraft (Hidalgo) heads towards the target asteroid. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab