GMV brings together outstanding scientists in the conference “Asteroids: A vision of the future”

It complements the “Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) Science Meeting” held on 1 and 2 March in the European Space Agency’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC/ESA)

GMV is responsible for the design of mission analysis and guidance, navigation and control (GNC) of the AIM mission. It is also helping to define operations towards the target asteroid

ESA will decide whether to approve the mission in December of this year. If given the go-ahead, AIM will be launched in 2020

The event kicked off with a demo of the landing phase of the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) on platform-art©, GMV’s advanced robotics testbed. Then came the turn of expert presentations. First up came Nicolas Altobelli, ESA scientist from the Solar System Science Operation Division, presenting a paper called “Rosetta: a restrocpective on riding a comet…and more to come”. Next up came Andrea Accomazzo, Director of Operations of Rosetta and currently Head of the Solar and Planetary Missions Division of the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), who gave the presentation “Rosetta: a precursor for Planetary Protection”. To round things off a projection of the mission was given by one of the world’s foremost specialists in the Sand Art technique.

The conference was held as a complement to ESA’s “Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) Science Meeting” held on 1 and 2 March in the European Space Agency’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC/ESA).

GMV is currently responsible for mission analysis and guidance, navigation and control (GNC) of the AIM mission. It is also contributing towards definition of operations to their target, the binary asteroid Dydimos.

ESA will decide whether or not to approve the mission in 2016. If given the go-ahead, AIM will be launched in 2020, arriving at Didymoon 18 months later, when analysis of the asteroid would begin.

Mariella Graziano, GMV’s Executive Director of Space Systems, underlined the importance of ESA’s AIM mission, which would be launched towards the Dydimos asteroid. This is a binary asteroid; the primary asteroid measures 800 meters while the satellite, called Dydimoon, measures 170 m; the two lie 1.2 kms apart. ESA plans to launch a low-cost mission called Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) to this binary asteroid to determine in a detailed way the energy transfer resulting from the impact of a probe against the secondary asteroid (to be gauged by measuring the asteroid’s speed after the impact and photographing the impact crater) and also to monitor the dust environment before and after the impact as a function of time. The aim is to explore and demonstrate technologies for future asteroid missions, studying what we can do to head off any asteroid impact on Earth. This is where GMV comes in; it is responsible for mission analysis, the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) subsystem and an important part of operations design, in one of the two ESA studies currently underway.

Some of the aspects that make AIM a unique mission are:

  • Even-handed international collaboration between ESA and NASA in the interests of planetary protection
  • The first ever mission to a binary asteroid, promising many important scientific insights
  • Demonstration of diverse advanced technologies that will be key in future interplanetary exploration missions
  • Use of small satellites (Cubesat) for science missions

AIM is an active part of the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) project of ESA, DLR (Germany), the Observatoire de la Côte d´Azur (France), NASA, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), designed to assess the potential of the kinetic impactor concept for deflecting nearby asteroids. The second component of this mission is the DART satellite (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), which is American. AIM’s 200-million-euro budget places it among low-cost missions. The fate of the AIM mission is to be decided in the upcoming Ministerial Conference scheduled for late 2016. If approved, AIM would be launched in 2020 aboard a Soyuz-ST rocket from French Guiana towards the Didymos asteroid. Arriving 18 months later, it would then begin its analysis of Didymoon while the binary asteroid system is passing about 11 million kilometers from Earth (30 times the Earth-Moon distance).

Once at the asteroid, AIM will study the secondary body Didymoon by means of two radars, the infrared camera TIRI (Thermal Imager) and the camera VIS (Visual Imaging System), which will build up a 1-meter resolution map. At the same time AIM will release two mini satellites for scientific research purposes and also the Lander MASCOT-2 of Germany’s Aerospace Center, DLR. One of the new features of this mission is use of the Optel-D laser communications system to send recorded information back to Earth, specifically to ESA’s Optical Ground Station (OGS) in Tenerife.

In October 2022 AIM will observe the 6 Km/s impact of the DART satellite against Didymoon. DART will be carrying a camera to record 20-centimeter-resolution images of the asteroid moments before the impact. AIM and DART will work jointly to determine the energy transfer resulting from DART’s impact against the secondary asteroid and monitor the dust environment before and after the impact as a function of time.

In the words of Graziano, “quite apart from its outstanding scientific value and its advanced technological component, the AIM mission is likely to make a huge contribution to the problem of planetary defense and to promote even-handed international cooperation”.

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