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Asteroid buster to save planet

A BRITISH-LED team of scientists is designing a “space ram” to be fired at speeds of more than 20,000mph into any large asteroid that threatens Earth.

Although the craft, called Hidalgo, would be only the size of a domestic cooker, the force of its high-speed impact should be enough to deflect an asteroid far enough off course to pass harmlessly by.

The craft is being designed by scientists at Qinetiq, formerly the government’s defence research agency, as part of a project by the European Space Agency (ESA). The team, which has won a £315,000 grant for its preliminary designs, hopes to send the ram on a test mission against a harmless asteroid within 10 years.

Called the Don Quijote mission, it will cost about £200m and will be funded by the ESA. Designs from Qinetiq and two rival European teams will be assessed by the ESA before a winner is announced early next year.

While the chance of an asteroid hitting the planet is remote, research into the risks was given impetus by an incident in 1994 when a comet punched a hole the size of Earth into Jupiter.

“This mission will be a bit like a game of solar system billiards,” said Nigel Wells, project manager for the Qinetiq team.

The test launch is scheduled for 2011 when the mission will target two asteroids flying into the zone between Earth and Mars, 43m miles away. Although their trajectory poses no threat to Earth, scientists want to see if Hidalgo can nudge one of them off course.

ESA Don Quijote page.
pointless quote removed - rule 3.5 - Doug

And the company that proposed the mission:
Deimos Space's "Estimation of Gravitational and Rotational Parameters (GREST)" should come in useful for Don Quijote.
Development of a software tool for the very precise estimation of the gravitational field and the rotational parameters of celestial bodies, with its application to the BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

After reading a little more on the proposed mission the orbiter "Sancho" strikes me as having a few similarities to Hayabusa, without the added complexity of a sample return. It will be powered by an Ion engine, which ESA must be confident in after SMART-1. Infact, they are basing the design on a modified SMART-1 bus. Those modifications consisting of larger solar arrays and a different communication subsystem. Hardly surprisingly many of the instruments will be similar to Hayabusa, such as LIDAR, IR Spectrometer and X-Ray Spectrometer. One that I wasn't really expecting though, was a notebook sized hopping mini lander which sounds very similar to Minerva, named the Autonomus Surface Package Deployment Engineering eXperiment (ASP-DeX). Planned to be deployed to the site of "Hidalgo's" impact where it will hop into the resulting crater. This seems a bit more advanced than Minerva, being larger in size and carrying a Mossbauer Spectrometer, Mass Spectrometer, Thermal Sensor, Accelerometer and Micro Camera. This is all obviously very preliminary, however, it would be nice to see this included. Hopefully they can learn from the mistakes of Minerva when trying to land on such a small body.

Hidalgo will also be based on an existing design, most probably using the same structure as Lisa Pathfinder. ESA must be pleased with this approach after basing VEX on MEX.
I recently recalled this mission concept proposal, and went searching for details (I knew I'd find a thread here if anywhere)
It seems to be a very comprehensive mission, with impactor and orbiter (similar to Deep impact) but with seismometers deployed to the surface before the impactor arrives, and a more comprehensive suite of instruments designed to study the target in some depth both before and after the impact..... trouble is, I can't find any information since September 2007, despite a good search.
Does anybody know if this ever progressed beyond the concept stage? - it would be a shame if not, as it looked fascinating, and the mission objectives reflect the current heightened interest in 'Torino' objects.

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