Europe approaches SpaceX for another key mission

The Hera mission will be responsible for assessing the consequences of the impact of DART. Initially, this probe was to be launched on a Russian rocket. However, geopolitical events have decided otherwise. The European Space Agency (ESA) finally turned to SpaceX. But it’s only temporary.

As Sciencepost previously reported, Moscow no longer offers space launch services to Europeans following economic sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia since the invasion of Ukraine. As a result, several missions have since found themselves without a rocket.

More recently, we learned that ESA finally turned to SpaceX to launch its Euclid observatory. The latter, in charge of map the Universe for clues about the nature of dark energy, could be launched on a Falcon 9 as early as next year. A feasibility study is underway.

It won’t be the only one. According to ESA boss Joseph Aschbacher, the Hera mission will also benefit from the services of SpaceX.

A follow-up to the DART mission

As a reminder, Hera will examine the aftermath of the impact of the DART mission, which aimed to test a potential planetary defense technique – that of kinetic impact – on a pair of asteroids. The main objective was to shorten the orbit of one of the two rocks around the other. This mission was a success. The orbital period of the object would indeed have been shortened by about thirty-two minutes.

However, there is still much to learn. In addition to confirming all these measurements and mapping the crater left on the surface by DART, Hera could also tell us more about the shape and mass of these two rocks. We also have no information on their composition and chemistry.

Hera, which was to be launched by a Soyuz rocket in October 2024, will therefore be launched by a Falcon 9, like Euclid. The probe is expected to arrive on site in late 2026 or early 2027. In the meantime, the dust generated by the impact will have had time to dissipate, giving the probe a clearer view of the aftermath of this event. Ultimately, Hera will provide extremely valuable information for future asteroid deflection missions.

Illustration of the Hera probe around its asteroid. Credits: ESA

Finally, Joseph Aschbacher also returned to the Earthcare mission. It is an Earth observation satellite that will join the European program Copernicus, a constellation enabling climate monitoring. The latter will be launched not with SpaceX, but on the European Vega C rocket. This small launcher, operated by the French company Arianespace, made its debut last July.

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