ESA funds Hera mission as part of planetary defense project with NASA

The European Space Agency has announced the funding of Hera, its part of the overall AIDA mission it will participate in with NASA. The Hera mission will involve sending a probe to investigate the impact of a NASA mission on an asteroid, two aspects of an overall mission designed to help protect our planet from asteroids. The awarded contract covers spacecraft design and more.

As previously announced, NASA and the ESA are working together on a joint effort called Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA), the goal of which is to figure out the best way to deflect an asteroid that may pose a risk to our planet. NASA is first up to bat in the joint mission with its DART spacecraft, which will impact a small asteroid called Dimorphos in September 2022.

That's where the ESA comes in with its Hera mission. This spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in 2026, where it will spend half a year conducting a close-up study of the celestial body to determine what kind of impact DART had on it. Hera is part of the ESA's Space Safety and Security program and as such will be controlled by the ESOC center in Germany.

Before all of this can happen, of course, the Hera spacecraft must be built, and that's where the new €129.4 ESA contract comes in. The contract was awarded to a consortium led by the German space company OHB; it covers designing, manufacturing, and testing the spacecraft. Assuming everything goes according to schedule, the mission will launch in 2024.

A total of 17 ESA member states are contributing to this mission, each assigned different aspects of the project. Italy, for example, is leading the power and propulsion subsystem aspects of the mission, while Spain has been tapped for the navigation, advanced guidance, and control systems, Hungary to support the camera calibration, Luxembourg for the inter-satellite communication system and Juventas CubeSat, and more.