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First controlled clash with an asteroid

on 27 September 2022

On 27 September, 2:14 Romania local time, NASA's DART component of the international AIDA mission was confirmed to have intentionally collided with the smallest asteroid in the Didymos binary system. ESA will send its own mission to the two asteroids. The Hera mission, in which Romania is involved, will observe what happened after the impact.

65803 Didymos consists 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 impacted the asteroid's satellite, in a way that posed no threat for Earth, and the European Hera component that will observe the asteroid in detail. Hera will measure the mass of the asteroid, its composition, analyse the crater caused by the collision and help us better understand asteroids.

In today's test, the 570-kilogram space probe autonomously reached a target asteroid, intentionally colliding with it at about 22,530 kilometres per hour to slightly slow the asteroid’s orbital speed. Researchers expect the impact to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1%, or roughly 10 minutes.

“Today we witnessed the first kinetic impact between a probe and an asteroid, part of the first planetary defence test. We therefore find ourselves closer to developing the necessary capacity at international level to protect Earth from asteroids, and Romania is part of this global effort,” declared Dr. Phys. Marius-Ioan Piso, President of the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA).

The European Hera spacecraft, which will launch in late 2024, will begin its own voyage to Dimorphos to perform a close-up survey of the post-impact asteroid. Hera will gather key information such as the size of DART’s crater, the mass of Dimorphos and its make-up and internal structure. This extra data will help turn the DART deflection experiment into a well-understood, repeatable technique that might one day be carried out for real.

Romania will provide some key elements for the success of the European mission. The Romanian expertise will help Hera to reach the asteroid and measure its deflection very precisely, following the impact with DART. It will also support one of ESA's first two deepspace cubesats to approach the asteroid.

You can read here about the "eyes" of the Hera mission without which it could not be properly guided and manoeuvred, developed with the involvement of GMV Romania.

Read here about measuring the asteroid's deflection using an altimeter to which the National Research and Development Institute for Optoelectronics - INOE 2000 from Romania contributed.

About the brain of the Hera mission, whose functioning will be tested with equipment made in Romania by ATOS Romania, you can read here.

“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).

2022 09 NASA DART Image B

Asteroid Didymos (bottom right) and its moonlet, Dimorphos, about 2.5 minutes before the impact of NASA’s DART spacecraft.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

2022 09 NASA DART Image C

Asteroid moonlet Dimorphos as seen by the DART spacecraft 11 seconds before impact.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

2022 09 NASA DART Image D

The last complete image of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, taken from 12 kilometres from the asteroid and 2 seconds before impact.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Main image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL