ESA shortlists CubeSat concepts to accompany its Asteroid Impact Mission
Backin February, ESA announced that a pair of CubeSats would fly aboard its Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), which forms part of the larger Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) operation. Now, ESA hasshortlisted five concepts missions for the flight, including projectsthat plan to study asteroid composition, measure the gravity field ofthe object, and much more.
If everything goes to plan, AIM willlift off in October 2020, and will, assuming it's successful, be partof the first-ever mission to rendezvous with a double asteroid. It'spart of the larger AIDA endeavour, which will see AIM workingtogether the NASA-supported Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.
The plan is for DART to impact the smaller of two asteroids –attempting to alter its course – whileAIM orbits the larger body, recording the event and measuring howeffective the deflection attempt is.
Assuming the mission receives finalapproval, it'll be carrying several smaller probes with it when itlifts off – namely a German Aerospace Center Mascot-2 Lander,and two triple-unit CubeSats.
There'sa lot of competition when it comes to exactly what those two mini-satellites should be tasked with doing when they arrive at theasteroids, but ESA has narrowed things down significantly this week,selecting five proposals that it thinks would be a good fit for themission.
First,the ASPECT mission plans to use a near-infrared spectrometer to studyasteroid composition, as well as the effects of space weathering onthe object. The project would also make observations of the plumecreated by DART's impact with the body.
TheCUBATA proposal would require a pair of CubeSats, working together tomeasure the gravity field of the asteroid both before and afterimpact using Doppler tracking, as well as imaging the impact eventclose up.
Meanwhile,the AGEX mission would touch down on the surface of the foreign bodyto study its gravity, subsurface structure and the nature ofsurface material, while the DustCube venture would focus specificallyon observing the plume of material ejected by the DART collision.
Lastly,the PALS mission – another dual-satellite proposal – would seekto characterize the magnetization and chemical composition ofmaterial ejected from the asteroid, while imaging it in highresolution.
Eachof the proposed missions could provide valuable insights, but theirselection at this stage doesn't mean they'll definitely get a spot onthe final mission – in fact, far from it. The shortlisted CubeSatprojects will now receive funding from ESA so that their viabilitycan be studied in more detail. The AIM mission will only have twoCubeSat berths, so competition is high.
Puttingthings into even greater context – the AIM mission itself hasn'tyet been given the final go-ahead. It's currently in the detaileddesign stages, and won't receive a final green (or red) light untilESA's Ministerial Council makes its decision in December 2016.
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Plan B get out of the way of the inevitable hit, off to another planet.
Plan C do a little of both Plan A & B and hope we don't run out of time.
Plan D do nothing and hope for the best in our short lifetime.