It's a familiar trope from films and television: a giant asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, and will wipe out all life as we know it unless a group of unlikely heroes are able to change the projectile's path. The European Space Agency isn't waiting for the doomsday scenario to present itself before getting ready, however. It's already investigating ways in which it could confront such a threat under its Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment project — and starting February 1st it will be looking to the scientific community to contribute ideas it thinks might be appropriate.
A collaboration between US and European governments, AIDA will send two small craft up into space around the year 2020 to encounter two bodies: an asteroid known as 65803 Didymos, and a smaller asteroid — about 150 meters in diameter — that accompanies it. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft will propel itself directly into the smaller of the two asteroids, while the ESA's Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM) vehicle will monitor the results of the collision. The AIDA team hopes that the DART's impact can alter the trajectory of the smaller asteroid by between 0.5 and 1 percent — and provide important information on the feasibility of such missions in the process.
The ESA's month-long call will be looking for different experiments, tests, and payload ideas that could be used in conjunction with the AIDA project. That feedback from the scientific community will be used to map out the priorities and areas of focus that the program will hew to moving forward. AIDA is just the latest of several such programs that are taking concepts that were once sci-fi fodder and transforming them into physical reality.