The European Space Agency (ESA) signed a €129.4-million contract covering the detailed design, manufacturing, and testing of the HERA mission with the German company OHB. This mission, which is ESA’s first ever planetary defense mission, will be Europe’s contribution to an international asteroid deflection effort carried out jointly with NASA and due for lift-off in October 2024. The contract takes in the complete design of the interplanetary probe, integration and tests, including an advanced Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) system that has been awarded to the technology multinational GMV as subcontractor of OHB.
The mission’s prime objective is to develop planetary defense technology. NASA will be sending a first spacecraft called DART to a near-Earth binary asteroid system called Didymos, comprising a main, mountain-sized, 780-meter diameter asteroid called Didymain orbited by a small 160-meter asteroid called Dimorphos, about the size of the Guiza pyramid. DART will make a kinetic impact against Dimorphos in September 2022, altering its orbit around Didymain.
This secondary asteroid will be the first ever celestial body to have its physical and orbital features altered intentionally by human intervention. The European HERA mission will reach Didymos in late 2026 to study the effect of the DART impact and make a precise assessment of how much Dimorphos’s trajectory has been altered. The idea is to glean from this an understanding of how an asteroid on collision course with the Earth might be deviated in the future. The HERA mission will be controlled from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), based in Darmstadt, Germany.
HERA has also been designed to carry out a months-long study of the binary system, thereby becoming the first ever interplanetary mission to rendezvous with a near-Earth binary asteroid system. During this research period various scientific instruments carried onboard HERA will collect data and help improve the asteroid knowledge and give priceless insights into how the Earth might be protected from any potential asteroid impact.
GMV’s role in the HERA mission
HERA will be fitted with a GMV-developed Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) system. To cope with the challenges GMV has developed an autonomous GNC system, providing additional safety to guarantee mission success.
HERA, demonstrating groundbreaking autonomous asteroid-orbiting technology in an analogous way to driverless cars on Earth, will gather crucial information to help scientists and future mission planners gain a much better understanding of the composition and structure of asteroids.