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Autonomous spacecraft could save Earth from the end of the world


Judging by the ratings of companies like Waymo, Lyft and Uber, humanity places a considerable bet on autonomous cars as the future of transportation. But the future of humanity itself can rest on the hopes of an autonomous spaceship.

The European Space Agency is developing an autonomous device for its Hera planetary defense mission against the asteroid Didymos, which could happen as early as 2023.

"If you think autonomous cars are the future on Earth, then Hera is the pioneer of autonomy in far-off spaces," said Paolo Martino, senior system engineer for the Hera mission proposed by the ESA, in a statement. "Although the mission is designed to be fully operated manually from the ground up, the new technology will be tested once the mission's core objectives have been achieved and higher risks can be taken."

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By operating autonomously, the Hera spacecraft could move in real time, reduce precious minutes in space and navigate around potentially treacherous objects in space. Similar to a standalone car that uses a variety of different sensors and cameras, the spacecraft will also have a range of technologies, said Jesus Gil Fernandez, the ship's guidance, navigation and control (CNG) engineer. ; ESA.

In addition, Hera's on-board computer will have a dedicated image processing unit, similar to a graphics card on a PC.

ESA has released a video of the Hera driving navigation test, which you can view below.

"The most crucial data source for Hera will be its Asteroid Framing camera, combined with the inputs of an asterometer, a laser altimeter, a thermal infrared camera and inertial sensors, including accelerometers," Fernandez added. .

By giving Hera his autonomy, he should let the probe approach 200 meters from Didymoon's surface, which would allow him to make observations at a distance of just 2 centimeters per pixel.

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"In comparison, all other missions in deep space have a well-defined pilot on Earth.Sailing commands are planned under the control of the mission in the European Space Operations Center of ESA, before to be reassembled at the satellite a few hours later, "added CNG engineer Massimo Casasco. "During the experimental phase of Hera, equivalent decisions will be taken on board autonomously, in real time."

The launch of the Hera mission is scheduled for October 2023. It would visit the asteroid Didymos, of a width of 2,500 feet, as well as its satellite, a smaller but still potentially lethal object, called Didymoon.

Hera, which will only start testing the autonomous system when all the main objectives are achieved, is only a small part of the assessment mission of the impact and deformation of asteroids (AIDA ), according to Space.com.

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The AIDA mission also includes a NASA spacecraft geared toward the same asteroid system, where its DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission is supposed to crush on the surface of an asteroid and make examine the surface with two smaller cubesats.

NASA recently expanded its global defense protocols, including unveiling a bold new plan to protect the Earth.

Last June, NASA unveiled a 20-page plan detailing what the United States should do to better prepare for near-Earth objects, such as asteroids and comets, within 30 million kilometers of the planet.

Lindley Johnson, NASA's Global Defense Officer, said at the time that the country "already had significant scientific, technical and operational capabilities" to assist NEOs, but that the implementation of the new plan "would significantly increase our country's preparedness and collaboration with international partners to respond if a new potential impact of asteroids was detected."

In addition to improving the capabilities for the detection, monitoring and characterization of near-Earth objects and improving modeling predictions, the plan also aims to develop technologies to divert NEOs, increase international cooperation and enhance establish new procedures and protocols for NEO impact action.

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