The mission will cost less than USD 55 million under NASA's SIMPLEx program and help usher a new era of space exploration. Lockheed Martin's Janus Project Manager Josh Wood explained that Janus' twin spacecraft are designed to be small and agile, each about the size of a carry-on suitcase.
FREMONT, CA: The University of Colorado Boulder and Lockheed Martin have decided to lead a new space mission to capture the first-ever close up look at a mysterious class of solar system objects called binary asteroids. These bodies are pairs of asteroids that orbit around each other in space, much like the Earth and Moon. NASA gave the official go-ahead to the Janus mission, named after the two-faced Roman god. The mission will study these asteroid couplets in never-before-seen detail. Known as Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C), this review and approval from NASA allow the project to begin implementation and baselines +the project's official schedule and budget.
"Binary asteroids are one class of objects for which we don't have high-resolution scientific data," said Scheeres, distinguished professor in the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder. "Everything we have on them is based on ground observations, which don't give you as much detail as being up close." In 2022, the Janus team will launch two identical spacecraft that will travel millions of miles to fly close to two binary asteroids individually. Their observations could open up a new window into how these diverse bodies evolve and even burst apart over time, said Daniel Scheeres, the principal investigator for Janus.
The mission will cost less than USD 55 million under NASA's SIMPLEx program and help usher a new era of space exploration. Lockheed Martin's Janus Project Manager Josh Wood explained that Janus' twin spacecraft are designed to be small and agile, each about the size of a carry-on suitcase. "We see an advantage to be able to shrink our spacecraft," said Wood. "With technology advancements, we can now explore our solar system and address important science questions with smaller spacecraft."
Janus is led by the University of Colorado Boulder, which will also undertake the scientific analysis of images and data for the mission. Lockheed Martin will manage, build, and operate the spacecraft. The mission will rendezvous with two binary pairs—named 1996 FG3 and 1991 VH—each showcasing a different kind of orbital pattern. The pair called 1991 VH, for example, has a moon that whips around a much more giant primary asteroid following a hard-to-predict pattern.
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