Spacecraft have visited the asteroids and increased our knowledge of these space critters that are so close to us, yet so far away.
Today's spacecraft exploring asteroids are the precursors to mining missions and have propelled us on our way to becoming capable of influencing the course of asteroids in the solar system!
Spacecraft Target Asteroids!
Many space probes have been sent to explore asteroids or as secondary targets for primary missions to comets. Comet missions are not discussed in the NEA pages. For information and links on comets please use Astra's Comets page.
Active Asteroid Missions and Flybys
Information on asteroid missions has been extracted from the websites that are linked in the short mission descriptions below. This section contains information on all asteroid missions, not necessarily Earth crossers. Please contact Astra with any omissions.
Other Links for Asteroid Missions
Active Asteroid Missions
Dawn Mission - Journey to the Beginning of the Solar System
The Dawn mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program. Dawn orbited the main asteroid belt, Vesta, and is now journeying to Ceres. These are the two largest known asteroids and it is believed the they survived the early epoch of bombardment so evident on the surface of Earth's moon. The Dawn mission will investigate Ceres and Vesta to improve our understanding the processes that are at work in the solar system.
The Dawn Mission launched on September 27, 2007. Dawn arrived at Vesta in June 2011 and is expected to reach Ceres in 2015.
Asteroid Mappers - Citizen scientists help to map the surface of Vesta. Investigate and analyze high-resolution Dawn images of Vesta, including craters and other features, from your own computer!
WISE - NEOWISE reactivated by NASA to a new mission detecting Near Earth Asteroids!
The Small Bodies Assessment Group - SBAG was established by NASA in March 2008 to establish scientific priorities and mission opportunities for exploration of near Earth asteroids and other small bodies. It provides input on the usability of asteroids and comets for human space exploration and other activities. SBAG reports its findings to NASA, but does not make recommendations.
Future Asteroid MissionsOSIRIS-REx
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is now slated to visit the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu to carry out detailed studies. It will bring back a sample (60 grams or 2.1 ounces) to aid investigation of solar system planet formation and the origin of life. It is hoped that the data collected will also increase our knowledge of asteroids that can impact Earth.
The Planetary Society ran a contest "Name that asteroid!" to find a name for the asteroid that mission planners choose for the OSIRIS-REx mission, 1999 RQ36. The asteroid was renamed Bennu by a 9 year old boy, Michael Puzio. Bennu was a large heron that was symbol of the Egyptian god, Osiris. More information can be found on the Planetary Society site and the OSIRIS-REx page.
With less than 1000 days to launch, find OSIRIS-REx mission news from NASA at: OSIRIS-REx NEwsJapanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
JAXA is now considering this mission to return samples from the surface of an asteroid to the earth. Hayabusa-2 is targeting a C-type asteroid. Possible Target: 162173 (1999 JU3)
This mission is a follow on to the successful Hayabusa missionB612 Foundation
Sentinel Mission - Sentinel is a mission the NEA population in the inner solar system is the first step to protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts and help to open this space next frontier. Sentinel will operate in the infrared in a mission expected to span 6.5 years, after 4 years to build and test. It will locate and follow the trajectories of asteroids larger than 140 meters.
Future Asteroid Mission: Don Quijote
Don Quijote is an asteroid deflection precursor mission concept, being considered by ESA.The Don Quijote mission concept consists of two spacecraft that launch on separate trajectories. Sancho, the orbiter spacecraft, measures the target asteroid's position, shape, mass, and gravity field for several months before and after the impact. The impactor spacecraft, Hidalgo, will hit the target asteroid at a relative speed of about 10 km/s.
The B612 Foundation's Sentinel Mission is a infrared (IR) survey mission. It is intended to discover 90 percent of NEAs larger than 140 meters. It is expected to discover many asteroids down to a diameter of 30 meters.
Available Papers on Asteroid MissionsClick on the link to navigate to the on-line papers that discuss Asteroid Missions:
- Role of near-earth asteroids in the space exploration initiative - Davis and others Mission opportunities with low delta V for NEA targets. This paper discusses 250 asteroids larger than 1 km considered easier to reach than the Moon's surface.
- Earth-Approaching Asteroids As Targets For Exploration - E. Helin and E. Shoemaker Written in 1978, Gene Shoemaker and Eleanor Helin discuss the possibility of crewed missions to an NEA.
- Mission Analysis, Spacecraft Concept and Ion Thruster Design for a Low-Cost Rendezvous with an Asteroid - David G Fearn Presented at the 29th International Electric Propulsion conference in 2005. It discusses a low cost launch of a deep space mission to a carefully selected asteroid.
- Dynamical and Compositional Assessment of Near-Earth Object Mission Targets - Binzel and others Written in 2002 for Meteoritics and Planetary Science.The authors identify 234 NEOs with having a calculated DV requirement of less than 7 km/sec as candidates for physical characterization and mission targets.
- Dynamical and Compositional Assessment of Near-Earth Object Mission Targets - Binzel and others
Completed Asteroid Missions
We thought it was all over!
NASA announced that it would Reactivate WISE for NEA searchers the week of 8/18/2013! The spacecraft was successfully revived in September 2013 after 31 months of hibernation. NASA's new mission home page can be found at WISE Mission Home.
Read about NEOWISE first discovery on December 29, 2013 - an NEA now designated 2013 YP139
WISE was a NASA-funded Explorer mission to study the solar system, the Milky Way, and the Universe in the infrared spectrum. WISE discovered over 153,000 asteroids. The WISE Mission launched on Dec. 14, 2009.
WISE found a new class of asteroid, the Earth Trojan.
WISE All-Sky Data Release provides access to WISE data. To look at data collected on asteroids, the WISE Moving Object Pipeline Subsystem (WMOPS) provides indepth information. Astronomers seeking data on individual asteroids, will want to check WISE Related Minor Planet Electronic Circulars (MPECs) for a list of the WISE discoveries.
The WISE mission website also offers educational videos at the NASA/JPL WISE Youtube channel!
Deep Impact - Comet Impact Mission
Launched on January 12, 2005, Deep Impact was highly successful at Comet Borrelly. Comets are composed of ice, gas and dust, and are believed to have formed in the solar system's most distant and coldest regions. They are thought to be time capsules that hold clues about the formation and evolution of the solar system. Deep Impact is a NASA Discovery Mission and is the first space mission to probe beneath the surface of a comet. The impactor weighed 370 kg or 816 lbs. The impact created a cloud of a fine, powdery material, not the water, ice, and dirt that was expected.
Deep Space has been given new tasks under the mission name of EPOXI. First it is to fly past comet Hartley 2 in in 2010. While travelling to Hartley 2, the spacecraft observed planets around other stars. Here is a link to a paper encouraging the Deep Impact new task, 2020-Jan-4 flyby of Potentially Hazardous Asteroid 163249 (2002 GT).
ESA reactivated Rosetta on 10 year journey to its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on January 20, 2014.
Sleeping Beauty awakes!
Rosetta was successfully launched on March 2,2004 from French Guiana. It made four gravity assists orbits, one by Mars and three by Earth, to reach it's target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On its 10 year journey to the comet, the spacecraft flew by two asteroids: 2867 Steins on September 5, 2008) and 21 Lutetia on July 10, 2010).
You can follow Rosetta on Facebook and Twitter. . .
Launched on May 9, 2003, the Hayabusa spacecraft explored 25143 Itokawa (1998 SF36). This asteroid was named after the late Dr. Hideo Itokawa, considered the father of Japan's space development program. The HAYABUSA mission used an ion engine spacecraft to capture and return a sample from the asteroid. (1500 grains) It returned to Earth on June 13, 2010, dropping the sample in a capsule that landed in Australia
HAYABUSA, was the first Japanese mission to an asteroid. Click for the mission page: MUSES-C
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
NEAR Spacecraft - The NEAR spacecraft visited the asteroids 253 Mathilde and 433 Eros (1898 DQ). The robotic space probe was designed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for NASA. In June 1997, the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft flew within 1200 km of Mathilde, a 61 km diameter asteroid. It first flew by the Aten asteroid, Eros, (diameter 34 km) in December of 1998 and entered orbit on February 2000, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid. It was renamed "NEAR Shoemaker", in honor of planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker who dream of taking a geological sample from the surface of Eros. The successful mission closed with a soft landing on the asteroid February 12, 2001.
Full details can be found in the paper Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous: Mission Summary by Andrew F. Cheng the principal investigator. To investigate the orbit of Eros, go to the JPL's Small Body Database
Stardust - NASA Comet Sample Return Mission
Launched on February 7, 1989 with a primary mission objective to return a sample from the comet Wild 2, the Stardust visited the asteroid AnneFrank on November 2. 2002. The sample was returned to Earth in 2006.
Galileo - Jupiter Probe visits asteroids
Launched on October 18, 1989, the Galileo spacecraft's primary mission was to explore the planet Jupiter as an orbiter and an impactor. On August 28, 1993 the spacecraft visited the asteroid 243 Ida, discovering that Ida had a small companion named Dactyl. Ida is 58 km long and 23 km wide. The successful mission was concluded in 2003 when the spacecraft made a controlled impact on the atmosphere of Jupiter. Images and artwork are courtesy NASA.
This image was used to help establish that 243 Ida had a moon.
Deep Space 1 - First Comet Flyby
Deep Space 1 launched on October 24, 1998. Its primary mission was to encounter Comet Borrelly and return science data and images from a comet. It performed a flyby of asteroid 9969 Braille (1992 KD) on July 28, 1999. The mission ended on December 18, 2001.