Darmstadt, 15 September 2020. – The European Space Agency (ESA) awarded a €129.4 million contract covering the design, manufacturing and testing of Hera, the space agency’s first mission for planetary defence, ESA announced today.
The contract was signed by Franco Ongaro, ESA Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality, and Marco Fuchs, CEO of Germany space company OHB, prime contractor of the Hera consortium, ESA said today. The signing took place at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, which will serve as mission control for the 2024-launched Hera.
The mission will be Europe’s contribution to an international asteroid deflection effort, set to perform sustained exploration of a double asteroid system, ESA said.
Hera will be, along with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) spacecraft, humankind’s first probe to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system, a little understood class making up around 15% of all known asteroids, the agency said.
Hera is the European contribution to an international planetary defence collaboration among European and US scientists called the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA).
The DART spacecraft is due for launch in July 2021 and will first perform a kinetic impact on the smaller of the two bodies.
Hera will then follow-up with a detailed post-impact survey to turn this grand-scale experiment into a well-understood and repeatable asteroid deflection technique, ESA said.
Due to launch in October 2024, Hera will travel to a binary asteroid system – the Didymos pair of near-Earth asteroids. The 780 meter-diameter mountain-sized main body is orbited by a 160 meter moon called ‘Dimorphos’.
DART’s kinetic impact into Dimorphos in September 2022 is expected to alter its orbit around Didymos as well as create a substantial crater, ESA said. “This moonlet asteroid will be the first celestial body to have its orbital and physical characteristics intentionally altered by human intervention.”
Hera will arrive at the Didymos system at the end of 2026, to perform at least six months of close-up study. Hera’s mission control will be based at ESA’s ESOC centre in Darmstadt, Germany, also the home of ESA’s new Space Safety and Security programme, of which Hera is a part.