WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency on Sept. 15 finalized a contract worth 129.4 million euros ($153.3 million) with German satellite manufacturer OHB to build its Hera asteroid spacecraft with a pan-European consortium.
OHB will lead a team of companies from 17 ESA member states to complete Hera ahead of an October 2024 launch. Hera is scheduled to reach a binary asteroid pair called Didymos and Dimorphos in late 2026 for a minimum-six-month study of the asteroid system.
Hera is ESA’s second attempt at sending a planetary defense mission to an asteroid. It draws heavily on an earlier program called the Asteroid Impact Mission that was canceled in 2016 after failing to secure funding.
Hera will follow NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, which is scheduled to launch in July 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. DART will crash into the smaller of the two asteroids, Dimorphos, in September 2022, to test a technique for deflecting an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
While DART will carry a cubesat co-passenger that will be released prior to the collision to conduct an initial post-collision fly-by, Hera will provide a more thorough assessment of the impact ...