HERA Asteroid Mission
A thrilling space mission is on the horizon as Hera, a European Space Agency (ESA) endeavor, prepares to embark on an extraordinary journey to explore the asteroid Didymos and its moon Dimorphos. This mission is part of the collaborative effort between NASA and ESA known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA). In the initial phase, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will have already visited the asteroids, impacting Dimorphos with significant force to induce a measurable change in its orbit. Hera will return to the system approximately 5 years later for a follow-up assessment, focusing on planetary defense and the evaluation of kinetic impact deflection.
First, it focuses on measuring Dimorphos’ mass with precision to determine momentum transfer efficiency accurately. Then, the mission involves examining crater details to improve our understanding of how craters form in low-gravity conditions. Hera will also observe subtle dynamic effects, which are hard to detect from the ground. The mission includes characterizing both the surface and interior of Dimorphos to scale momentum transfer efficiency for other asteroids. Hera aims to achieve scientific objectives such as characterizing the binary system, studying surface structures, regolith mobility, and surface geophysics. Scheduled for launch in October 2024 and expected to reach the Didymos system by December 2026 on an Ariane 6, Hera is poised to revolutionize our understanding of celestial bodies. While the payload details are still under discussion, it is anticipated to include imaging systems and possibly a laser altimeter. Excitingly, plans are in place to carry two 6U cubesats, Juventas and APEX, which will contribute to further studies of asteroids, adding an extra layer of anticipation to this groundbreaking mission.