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26 September: humanity will deflect an asteroid. Romania’s role in the first ever planetary defence mission

on 22 September 2022

On 26 September, a spacecraft will hit an asteroid in a controlled manner, in the first international effort to deviate an asteroid from its trajectory, to test humanity’s ability to protect itself from asteroids using this method. Romania is one of the actors contributing to the European component of the mission.

65803 Didymos is an asteroid classified as potentially hazardous, consisting of the main asteroid and its satellite, called Dimorphos. 65803 Didymos is the target of the international AIDA (Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment) mission, with its two components: the American DART component that will impact the asteroid's satellite on 26 September 2022, in a way that poses no threat for Earth, and the European Hera component that will observe whether or not we have successfully deflected the asteroid.

The Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) invites both the public and the media to witness the impact between DART and Dimorphos. The event will take place on 26 september and is broadcasted online according to the schedule below:

On 26 september (early 27 september in Romania), DART will collide with the smaller body of the Didymos binary asteroid system, striking at a speed of around 6.6 km per second. While the Didymos asteroid system will maintain its motion around the Sun unperturbed, the collision is expected to shift the orbit of the 160-metre-diameter Dimorphos around the 780-metre-diameter Didymos in a small but distinct way – just a fraction of one percent – sufficient to be measured. But there are still multiple unknowns about this asteroid system — such as the precise mass of Dimorphos, its makeup and its internal structure – as well as the size and shape of the crater left by DART.

So, in November 2024 the European Space Agency’s mission Hera will head towards the Didymos system, commencing its detailed ‘crime scene investigation’ of the two asteroids in late 2026.

Romania plays an essential role in the Hera mission, through several companies and institutions.

“The fact that ESA selected Romanian entities in the competitive call to tenders for participation in the Hera mission is standing proof that Romanian capabilities have increased and that ROSA’s efforts during the past years to encourage participation to ESA programmes is paying off”, declared Dr. Phys. Marius-Ioan Piso, President of the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA).

Romanian technology will lead Europe's first planetary defence mission to the asteroid

2022 09 Sinteza HERA Image B

Credit: MPS/GMV

Components made in Romania will be the 'eyes' of the Hera mission, without which it would not be able to guide and manoeuvre itself properly. Basically, everything the mission satellite will see, as well as the way the data is interpreted to guide it to its destination, will depend on Romanian technology, which GMV Romania experts are currently working on. Part of an international consortium, GMV's Romanian subsidiary is responsible for image processing, altitude-based guidance, error identification and isolation and the image-processing-based navigation of Hera's main satellite, as well as of a smaller probe that will get closer to the asteroid, Juventas — one of the European Space Agency's (ESA) first two deepspace cubesats. Read more here.

An instrument designed in Romania will measure the asteroid deflection

2022 09 Sinteza HERA Image C

Credit: ESA - ScienceOffice.org

Whether the international planetary defence mission was successful or not will be a question to be answered with the help of an instrument designed by the National Institute for Research and Development in Optoelectronics - INOE 2000. After the impact with DART, the Hera mission will reach the asteroid and make a detailed survey with several instruments on board. Among these, the altimeter designed by INOE is the only instrument that will be installed on Hera to measure the distance to the asteroid and determine the new orbit following impact. The altimeter is capable of measuring the distance of targets near the satellite from 100m to 15km with an accuracy of 0.1m. It will send a laser beam to the asteroid and a telescope will capture the return signal. Using this method, researchers will be able to calculate whether and how far the Dimorphos asteroid has moved from its original position. The optical design of the altimeter was entirely developed at the National Research and Development Institute for Optoelectronics - INOE 2000. The participation in the development of a scientific instrument under the coordination of the main contractor, Efacec Portugal, in the context of an international NASA/ESA mission, stands as proof for Romania's expertise, appreciated at European level. Read more here.

Efacec Portugal also involved Efacec Romania in the project. The Romanian team is participating in the management of the procurement process and respective purchasing of all the components, such as electronics for the success of the project. The Romanian subsidiary of Efacec was created in 2008, and since then it has contributed to the growth of the Romanian aerospace sector in parallel with other important sectors for Romania, associated with Green Energy Transition, such as renewables and electrical mobility.

The brain of the Hera planetary defence mission, tested with equipment made in Romania

2022 09 Sinteza HERA Image D

Sursă: ATOS România

The team from ATOS Romania has built the equipment involved in the testing of the data management system, including the mission’s on-board computer. The equipment developed by ATOS Romania allows the simulation of an impressive number of scenarios that might be presented to the on-board computer, based on data from a great number of sensors and interfaces. This is how the on-board computer and the data management system can be observed, validated and diagnosed during the integration phase of Hera. Read more here.

Image credit: ESA – Science Office