NASA Wants to Weigh Asteroids Using a “Flock” of Probes

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Our planet might be surrounded by asteroids, but we don’t know much about them. NASA wants to learn how they behave and they intend on weighing them.

The agency will have many small spacecraft to approach small asteroids. This project is being tested by NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, and it’s called OpGrav. NASA has explained the project in a video released on their YouTube channel on 10 August.

How Will the Probes Work?

When scientists want to study a small asteroid, they can send a main spacecraft towards it. This spacecraft will contain smaller ones that would look like spheres. They would resemble a flock that slowly approach the asteroid. Being so small, the asteroid’s gravity would pull them off course. The main spacecraft will then track the small spheres.

Measuring asteroids can allow scientists to calculate their mass and map them to see where that mass exists within the asteroid. While the probes scan the asteroid, the main spacecraft can also make its own observations to complete the mission.

The missions won’t be perfect because they depend on the size of the asteroids. If the asteroid is too small, the main spacecraft must carefully aim the flock of probes so that they can get close to it and get pulled by the asteroid’s gravity force. As for larger asteroids, the project should be a success. According to a statement from NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, they would be able to measure the mass of a larger asteroid to within 1% of its true mass.

At the moment, the project is in its early stages, and they have not yet decided when they would start the missions.

The OpGrav received funding in 2014 and 2015 through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, after it was proposed by JHUAPL researcher Justin Atchison.


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