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Blue Origin and Startups Propose Missions to Asteroid Apophis Ahead of Rare Earth Flyby

Blue Origin and many other ambitious startups, are proposing innovative mission concepts to explore the Asteroid Apophis before its historic close encounter with Earth in 2029. The rare celestial event, occurring once in a millennium.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Fri Apr 26 2024Written by Zac Aubert

Blue Origin and many other ambitious startups, are proposing innovative mission concepts to explore the Asteroid Apophis before its historic close encounter with Earth in 2029. The rare celestial event, occurring once in a millennium.

During a recent workshop held at a European Space Agency center in The Netherlands on April 22–23, various mission proposals were discussed, aiming to enhance our understanding of Apophis and its potential interaction with Earth's gravitational forces during its flyby.

Among the notable proposals is Blue Origin's plan to deploy its Blue Ring spacecraft to Apophis. The Blue Ring spacecraft, capable of carrying up to 13 payloads, could facilitate the deployment of instruments or other spacecraft to Apophis, providing valuable data before and during the flyby.

"We haven't optimized this yet. We can do better," - Steve Squyres, Blue Origin Chief Scientist

Another intriguing concept presented at the workshop involves the revival of a proposal by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) called Distributed Radar Observations of Interior Distributions (DROID). Collaborating with startup Exploration Labs (ExLabs), the DROID mission aims to conduct detailed interior scans of Apophis using deployable cubesats.

Lorraine Fesq from JPL highlighted the innovative partnership between JPL and ExLabs, which entails ExLabs funding the initial phase of mission design, with subsequent phases seeking private investment. This collaborative effort underscores the growing role of private companies in advancing space exploration.

ExLabs, represented by Tom Cooley, envisions the mission as an opportunity for technological innovation and potential future ventures in asteroid mining. The company's Space Exploration and Resource Vehicle (SERV) spacecraft will serve as the platform for the DROID mission, with provisions for accommodating additional payloads.

While these proposals offer promising avenues for scientific investigation, challenges remain, particularly in securing funding.

NASA's constrained planetary science budget poses a significant hurdle, limiting the agency's ability to support new missions independently.

However, there is optimism that collaborative efforts among international space agencies could overcome these financial barriers as many countries some to agree that space is better together

As discussions continue, the global space community remains poised to seize this unique opportunity to unravel the mysteries of Apophis and advance our understanding of planetary defense and exploration.