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New small satellite Janus mission to study binary asteroids

Illustration: Lockheed Martin

Denver, 15 September 2020. – Lockheed Martin is working with the University of Colorado Boulder on a space mission to capture the first-ever closeup look at binary asteroids, the company said in a news release on 10 September.

Binary asteroids, this “mysterious class of solar system objects”, are pairs of asteroids that orbit around each other in space, much like the Earth and Moon, the release said. “In a project review on Sept. 3, NASA gave the official go-ahead to the Janus mission, named after the two-faced Roman god. The mission will study these asteroid couplets in never-before-seen detail.”

In 2022, the Janus team will launch two identical spacecraft that will travel millions of miles to individually fly close to two pairs of binary asteroids, the company said. “Their observations could open up a new window into how these diverse bodies evolve and even burst apart over time,” said Daniel Scheeres, the principle investigator for Janus.

The mission, which will cost less than $55 million under NASA’s SIMPLEx program, may also help to usher in a new era of space exploration, said Lockheed Martin’s Janus Project Manager Josh Wood.

Janus is led by the University of Colorado Boulder, which will undertake the scientific analysis of images and data for the mission, the release said. Lockheed Martin will manage, build and operate the spacecraft.

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