The European Space Agency has launched its Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) project in an effort to search for a way to counter the threat of an earth-bound asteroid, potentially by knocking the asteroid off its course. The idea is to send two small spacecraft to intercept an steroid known as 65803 Didymos, and a smaller asteroid — about 150 meters in diameter — that accompanies it. The asteroids are projected to travel past Earth in 2022. One 600-pound (300-kg) spacecraft, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) craft would smash into the smaller of the two asteroids. The impact would knock the 500-foot- (150-meter-) wide space rock off its regular orbit. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency’s Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM) craft would survey the collision. The crash would take place about at 6.5 million miles (10.5 million kilometers), meaning scientists on the ground would also be able to measure the deflection using telescopes. The AIDA team hopes that the DART’s impact can alter the trajectory of the smaller asteroid by between 0.5 and 1 percent.
Beginning in the next few weeks, ESA will be seeking ideas, and partners, in its effort.