European Space Agency launches asteroid defense project

The German space company OHB was awarded a contract of 129.4 million euros (153.5 million U.S. dollars) by the European Space Agency (ESA) last week for design, construction and testing of Hera, the ESA’s first planetary defense mission.

“Dangers from outer space are real,” said OHB CEO Marco Fuchs in a statement . There were “millions of boulders there that could wipe out life on the earth in the event of a collision.”

The contract with OHB, which is specialized on low-orbiting and geostationary satellites, was signed at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in the German city Darmstadt. According to ESA, OHB was the “prime contractor of the Hera consortium.”

“This ambitious mission will be Europe’s contribution to an international asteroid deflection effort, set to perform sustained exploration of a double asteroid system,” ESA noted.

Hera, named after the Greek goddess of marriage, together with the spacecraft Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), would be “humankind’s first probe to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system,” a little-explored class that made up around 15 percent of all known asteroids, ESA noted.

Together with DART, Hera would investigate the effects of an impact on an asteroid in order to develop a reliable asteroid deflection technique, according to ESA. Controlled from the operation center in Darmstadt, Hera is scheduled for launch in October 2024.

“The four years ahead of the launch have been meticulously timed. The Hera probe is a new technological development and therefore a major challenge,” said Stefan Voegt, Hera project manager at OHB.