The twin-spacecraft Janus project will study the formation and evolutionary implications for small “rubble pile” binary asteroids.

A new space mission will be soon led by the University of Colorado Boulder and Lockheed Martin to take the first-ever close-up look at enigmatic class of solar system objects: Binary Asteroids.

These objects are pairs of asteroids which orbit each other in space, similar to the Earth and the Moon. Titled after two-face Roman deity, Janus mission got the final go-ahead from NASA in a project review. The mission will be analysing these couplets of asteroids in details. Identified as Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C), this approval from NASA allows the project to commence executions and the baselines.

The Principal investigator for Janus, Daniel Scheeres revealed that the Janus team will be launching two identical spacecrafts in 2022 that will travel millions of miles to fly close to two pairs of binary asteroids individually. Their findings could give a new insight into how these complex bodies evolve over time.

Sheeres, distinguished professor in the Ann and H. J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder said, “Binary asteroids are one class of objects for which we don’t have high-resolution scientific data.” Sheeres further added, “Everything we have on them is based on ground observations, which don’t give you as much detail as being up close.”

Janus Project Manager, Josh Wood in Lockheed Martin said that the mission, which as part of NASA’s SIMPLEx programme would cost less than $55 million, could also help usher in a new age of space exploration. He further clarified that the twin spacecraft of Janus was designed to be compact and lightweight, each about the size of a 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 managed by the University of Colorado Boulder, where Scheeres is located, who will also conduct scientific analysis of the mission’s images and data. Lockheed Martin will be managing the build and operate the spacecraft.

The mission will meet up with two binary pairs — named FG3 in 1996 and VH in 1991 — each displaying a different orbital pattern. For example, the pair named 1991 VH has a “moon,” which whips around a much larger “primary” asteroid following a pattern that is hard to predict. Scheeres and his colleagues are expecting, among other goals, to learn more about how binary asteroids travel – both around each other and across space.

“Once we see them up close up, there will be a lot of questions we can answer, but these will raise new questions as well,” Scheeres said. “We think Janus will motivate additional missions to binary asteroids.”

Wood added that the twin spacecraft of the mission, each weighing about 80 pounds, will fly faster than any small satellite to date.

They will first enter an orbit around the sun after lifting off in 2022, before coming back to Earth and making their way deep into space and beyond Mars’ orbit.

“I think it’s a great test for what is achievable from the aerospace community,” Wood said. “And the Colorado-centric development for this mission, combining the space talent of both CU Boulder and Lockheed Martin, is a testament to the skills available in the state.”

Lockheed Martin, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, is an international security and aerospace company that employs about 110,000 people worldwide and primarily engages in the research, design, development, manufacturing, integration and maintenance of advanced technology systems, products and services.

Satvika Kushwaha

Satvika Kushwaha

Hello! I’m Satvika, a media enthusiast, in love with writing and photography. Poetry, cinema and food interests me most and I am always looking forward to explore new possibilities. Favourite Car: Lamborghini Aventador Quote: Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality - Robin S. Sharma