The ESA has confirmed it will launch the Human Exploration Research Analog (Hera) mission in 2024 where it will head to the Didymos binary asteroid system – where two asteroids, one much larger than the other, orbit one another. The European space exploration arm will work alongside NASA, which has developed an asteroid deflecting satellite. NASA has already begun its design phase on a spacecraft known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) which will be used to redirect an asteroids path, when the massive space rock inevitably heads towards our planet.

Tests in outer space could begin as early as 2020 where it will attempt to move the “non-threatening” asteroid.

NASA said on its website: “DART is a planetary defence-driven test of one of the technologies for preventing the Earth impact of a hazardous asteroid: the kinetic impactor.

“DART’s primary objective is to demonstrate a kinetic impact on a small asteroid.

“The binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos is the target for DART.”

The tester mission will see DART travel to Didymos A and B when they fly close to Earth between 2022 and 2024.

DART will then hit the smaller asteroid, which is about 160 metres in length, “nine times faster than a bullet, approximately 3.7 miles per second” according to a statement.

The ESA and Hera’s role in the mission will be to collect data from the asteroid and the NASA mission.

The ESA said this is ”part of the Agency’s broader planetary defence initiatives that aim to protect European and world citizens.

“Hera will be humanity’s first-ever spacecraft to visit a double asteroid, the Didymos binary system.

“First, NASA will crash its DART spacecraft into the smaller asteroid – known as Didymoon – before ESA’s Hera comes in to map the resulting impact crater and measure the asteroid’s mass.

“Hera will carry two CubeSats on board, which will be able to fly much closer to the asteroid’s surface, carrying out crucial scientific studies, before touching down.

“Hera’s up-close observations will turn asteroid deflection into a well-understood planetary defence technique.”

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Ian Carnelli, who is managing the Hera mission, said: “Flying the two missions together will greatly magnify their overall knowledge return.

“Hera will in fact gather essential data to turn this one-off experiment into an asteroid deflection technique applicable to other asteroids.

“Hera will also be the first mission to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system, a mysterious class of object believed to make up around 15 percent of all known asteroids.

“And our mission will test a variety of important new technologies, including deep space CubeSats, inter-satellite links and autonomous image-based navigation techniques, while also providing us with valuable experience of low-gravity operations.”

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