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QinetiQ on a mission to save the earth

23 December 2015

QinetiQ is examining what it would take to save the world from an asteroid impact, under an €840,000 contract awarded by the European Space Agency (ESA).

AIM observes DART impact (image: ESA)

Scientists from QinetiQ’s Space business, in partnership with GMV, are defining the requirements for ESA’s Asteroid Impact Monitoring (AIM) mission, part of the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) collaboration between ESA and NASA. AIDA will investigate the possibility of altering an asteroid’s course to prevent a collision with Earth.

According to the AIDA mission proposal, in 2022, two years after launch, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft will collide with the 150m ‘Didymoon’ while ESA’s AIM satellite observes its effect on the asteroid’s trajectory. Its proximity to Earth in October 2022 will offer a unique opportunity to test advanced platform technologies and asteroid deflection techniques.

In carrying out the feasibility study for the AIM mission, QinetiQ is examining challenges such as navigation, propulsion, power and communications, before making recommendations to ESA on technical requirements.

The concept is being considered for discussion at the ESA ministerial conference in November 2016.

Frank Preud’homme, Commercial Director for QinetiQ’s Space business, said: “The number of known accessible near-earth objects has more than doubled in five years. However, while we are better equipped than ever to detect threats from asteroids, we are not yet able to defend our planet against them. The AIDA mission could be the first step in creating that line of defence.

“We are acting as the architects of the AIM mission, which is a very exciting prospect. Our experience in developing ESA’s Proba small satellites makes us uniquely placed to meet the complex technical and budgetary challenges of this study. This role also puts us in a strong position for the next phase if it gains approval at the ministerial conference in 2016.”

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