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NASA is going to shoot an asteroid and Europe will examine the mess

CNET logo CNET 3 days ago Eric Mack
water next to the ocean: An illustration of a cubesat at Didymos © ESA

An illustration of a cubesat at Didymos

Europe and the US are joining forces to save the world from an apocalyptic asteroid impact. Or at least to start the process of learning how we might prevent Armageddon by crashing a spacecraft into a binary asteroid.

The European Space Agency has gotten approval from the continent's space leaders to build and launch the Hera asteroid mission as soon as 2024. Hera will visit the double asteroid Didymos to scope out its smaller component, informally called "Didymoon," a few years after NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft has collided with it.

The hope is Didymoon will become the first natural object in the solar system to have its orbit shifted by human effort enough to measure the difference.

Didymoon is 525 feet (160 meters) across, or about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and it orbits the half-mile-wide (780-meter) main body of Didymos.

Hera's mission profile ESA © Provided by CNET Hera's mission profile ESA

Currently, NASA's DART is slated to launch aboard a SpaceX rocket in mid-2021 and smash into Didymoon by the end of 2022. Hera would then launch in 2024 and arrive to check out DART's work in 2026. Hera will gather images and reams of data from Didymos to relay back to Earth, and also will release a pair of cubesats that'll fly closer and eventually land on the asteroid.

The hope is that all this will result in a better understanding of how we might one day be able to deflect a dangerous asteroid without having to sacrifice Bruce Willis. (Sorry for the 20-year-old spoiler.)

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