Smallest radar instrument to be flown in space


Its target destination? The Dimorphos asteroid, which on the night of 26 September had its orbit diverted and a vast 10 000 km plume sent out into space following a collision with NASA’s DART mission craft.

This radar instrument, connected to a quartet of 1.5 m-long antenna booms, will be flown aboard the small Juventas CubeSat, which will in turn be flown to Dimorphos aboard ESA’s Hera spacecraft, due to be launched in two years’ time.

It is actually a miniaturised version of the radar flown aboard ESA’s Rosetta comet mission and used to probe beneath the black surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. It was developed by Dr. Alain Hérique’s group at the Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG) at the Université Grenoble Alpes and Dr Dirk Plettemeier’s group at Technical University Dresden, explains ESA.

Hera – currently taking shape at OHB in Germany and Avio in Italy – will fly to Dimorphos to perform a close-up survey of the aftermath of the DART impact, gathering key information such as the size of DART’s crater, the mass of Dimorphos as well as its make-up and internal structure. Hera’s extra data will help turn the DART deflection experiment into a well-understood, repeatable technique that might one day be needed for real, says the ESA.

Pictured below is the one of the final images taken before DART’s impact, more of which can be viewed here.


The body chosen for the impact was a moonlet, called Dimorphos 285, which measures 160 meters in diameter and is described as about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It orbits the larger, 780-meter asteroid called Didymos, neither of which pose any threat to Earth .

The kamikaze spacecraft had one instrument – the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) – and used a navigation and control system that works in tandem with Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) algorithms. This, said Nasa previously, would enable DART to identify and distinguish between two asteroids and target the smaller one.

You can read more on the ESA website, including each country’s role in Hera.

See also: Nasa confirms DART impact changed asteroid’s motion in space

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