(FEBRUARY 21, 2017) NASA will be conducting a test of a planetary defense spacecraft that will land an impactor on an asteroid in the space to try to shield Earth from potentially devastating impacts from the space rocks, according to a NASA news release.
Vaughn P. Magee, project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told FoxNews.com that the agency plans to launch the test early in 2018.
“This will be a full-scale test of the probe and its approach and landing system,” Magee said in the news release. “Our upcoming test flight will show the techniques and procedures that will be used to catch the impactor in midair as it burns up in the atmosphere, essentially deflating the probe and safely returning it to Earth orbit.”
Here are the main components of the probe and how they are being integrated, according to the news release:
— The Lander: Lander is one of the two experiments traveling on the CRL-CMOSP, a rocket carrying a small solar-powered and pusher probe that the Lander uses to accelerate into the space. With two wheels, the Lander is a solar-powered globe that can be configured for new modes of sensing and orbit management.
— Psyche: After the CRL-CMOSP rockets release the solar-powered spacecraft, Psyche will provide the real-time data required for NASA to test the MicrodV maneuver technique.
Magee told FoxNews.com that MicrodV is a maneuver that can deflect a space rock much smaller than half a mile across to alter its course at the last second of impact. “There are so many different types of impacts and different sizes of space rocks that it is very important to make sure that you test various approaches that can change or improve the chances of astronauts surviving after an impact,” he said.
According to Magee, NASA plans to launch the probe by early 2018 to the vicinity of Asteroid Bennu which will be located about 17.5 million miles from Earth.
“We will use orbit segment, so the spacecraft will be going within 10 million miles of the surface,” Magee said.
The spacecraft will have a new mission in the months after the crash into the asteroid. “In addition to using the rockets to accelerate it up into orbit, then we have a landing concept,” Magee said. “The MicrodV maneuver then gives us a whole new system for moving it into the final orbit where it will be subjected to Mars radiation.”
Magee said there is great interest among planetary scientists in examining the near-Earth asteroids and what might be doing to this region of the solar system.
“You get this curiosity in the solar system – what is there and where is it? – and then you have this drive to learn more,” he said. “It is essential to keep studying these asteroids so we can understand them better.”