ESA’s planned Hera mission, named after the Greek goddess of marriage, will be humankind’s first probe to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system – a little understood class making up around 15% of all known asteroids.
Hera is the European contribution to an international double-spacecraft mission called AIDA. NASA will first crash its DART spacecraft into the smaller of the two bodies, ‘Didymoon’, modifying its orbit around the primary asteroid, ‘Didymos’, by a tiny amount. Hera will then follow-up with a detailed post-impact survey, turning this grand-scale experiment into a well-understood and repeatable planetary defence technique.
While doing so, Hera will gather crucial scientific data, helping scientists and future mission planners better understand asteroid compositions, structures and behaviours in response to a ‘kinetic impact’.