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Postcards from Space: Planetary Defence

Ryuichi Dunphy, Hera Project Manager, QinetiQ’s space business

HERA, named after the Greek goddess of marriage, is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission to characterise the binary asteroid Didymos; a 780m diameter main body orbited by a 160m moon called Didymoon.

Copyright: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

The mission is managed by OHB, which is the prime contractor and leads an industry consortium consisting of QinetiQ’s space business, GMV, Spacebel, and OHB Italy.

QinetiQ is responsible for the design and development of the On-board Data Handling subsystem, which involves an implementation of QinetiQ’s on-board computer, the Advanced Data and Power Management System – 3 (ADPMS-3). The mission is scheduled for launch in January 2024.

The HERA mission has three key objectives:

  1. To contribute to Earth’s planetary defence by testing and validating impact models of whether a spacecraft could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. HERA is the European contribution to the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission together with NASA. NASA will launch a large impactor spacecraft called Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) in July 2021. DART is planned to impact Didymos in 2022, while HERA will arrive in 2027 to observe the impact crater and measure the effect on the binary system orbit.
  2. A science mission to investigate the surface properties and composition of the binary asteroid system.
  3. A technology demonstration mission to show multiple novel technologies, such as autonomous visual navigation around the asteroid and numerous cutting edge space hardware including QinetiQ’s ADPMS-3.
HERA orbit

Copyright: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

A first phase of the project was conducted from September 2018 to July 2019, where the industry team defined the preliminary design of the spacecraft and the mission. A second preliminary phase is currently on-going since last October with a focus on payload interface baseline and key technology development. From January 22nd to 24th, the payload interface and technology development workshop was held at our site in Belgium, where we had more than 30 people from the industry team and all the payload providers coming over. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the current status of the payload development and key technologies for the mission, during which QinetiQ presented the current status of the ADPMS-3.

Stay tuned for more updates as we reach new milestones on the HERA mission!