NASA has a wild idea to weigh asteroids with a swarm of mini probes


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Asteroids are throughout us in area — however they’re awfully troublesome to weigh, which makes it tougher to understand how they will behave.

So, NASA is contemplating a brand new spacecraft that might take a novel strategy to the issue, enlisting miniature probes to skim previous small asteroids. That is the thought behind OpGrav, a venture that NASA and the Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Lab are testing. The asteroid-flyby venture is defined in a brand new video from NASA launched Aug. 10 on YouTube.

This is how it will work: The primary spacecraft would strategy a small asteroid that scientists wish to research in additional element. Whereas the spacecraft remains to be just a few hours away, it will launch a group of small spheres towards the asteroid.

The flock of probes would have the ability to safely fly nearer to the asteroid than the spacecraft itself. Which means the probes could be affected by the asteroid’s gravity, which might pull every one a bit astray. The primary spacecraft would then monitor the place these particular person probes go towards the background of stars round them.

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These measurements would then enable scientists to work backward to calculate the asteroid’s mass and create a map of the place precisely that mass is throughout the asteroid. On the identical time, the spacecraft might make its personal observations of the asteroid to complement information from the probes.

The strategy would not be good; the smaller the asteroid, the extra necessary it will be for the spacecraft to goal its flock nicely. However with bigger asteroids, the approach ought to have the ability to measure the asteroids to inside 1 % of their true mass, in keeping with a joint assertion concerning the venture.

It is too early, nonetheless, to inform when this venture could be able to fly, the assertion added.

The OpGrav asteroid idea was proposed by JHUAPL researcher Justin Atchison by the NASA Revolutionary Superior Ideas program, which funds analysis into high-risk, high-reward area exploration ideas. The OpGrav idea obtained two rounds of NIAC funding between 2014 and 2015. 

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