Photo rendition of Hera cubesats

NASA Selects Participating Scientists to Join ESA’s Hera Mission

Yun Zhang from the U-M Department of Climate and Space has been selected by NASA to work on an ESA planetary defense mission.

A scientist from the University of Michigan’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering is among the dozen selected by NASA for the Hera mission, an ESA planetary defense mission slated to launch later this year.

NASA has selected 12 participating scientists to join ESA’s (European Space Agency) Hera mission, which is scheduled to launch in October 2024. Hera will study the binary asteroid system Didymos, including the moonlet Dimorphos, which was impacted by NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft on Sept. 26, 2022. The objectives of DART and Hera collectively aim to validate the kinetic impact method as a technology to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, if one is ever discovered, and to learn more about the near-Earth asteroids that are the source of this natural hazard.

Hera is scheduled to arrive at the Didymos/Dimorphos binary asteroid system at the end of 2026, where it will gather otherwise unobtainable data about the mass and makeup of both bodies and assess the changes caused by the DART spacecraft’s kinetic impact.

The goal of NASA’s Hera Participating Scientist Program is to support scientists at U.S. institutions to participate on the Hera mission and address outstanding questions in planetary defense and near-Earth asteroid science. The participating scientists will become Hera science team members during their five-year tenure with the mission.

The newly selected participating scientists are:

  • Bonnie Buratti — NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Southern California
  • Ingrid Daubar — Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
  • Carolyn Ernst — Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Dawn Graninger — Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Mark Haynes — NASA JPL
  • Masatoshi Hirabayashi — Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
  • Tim Lister — Las Cumbres Observatory, Goleta, California
  • Ryan Park — NASA JPL
  • Andrew Rivkin — Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Daniel Scheeres — University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Timothy Titus — U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Yun Zhang — University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

“Being part of this mission offers me the opportunity to investigate the surface and interior structural properties of the target asteroids Didymos and Dimorphos. From the images taken by DART before it impacted on Dimorphos, we know that the surfaces of these asteroids are covered with boulders and small grains,” said Zhang, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at U-M Climate & Space. “But we have limited information about their interiors and how their overall structures respond to external influences. Hera will return high-resolution images of these two asteroids and determine their density distribution and internal macroporosity through its radio science experiment.”

Zhang will use data analysis and modeling tools to identify evidence of surface mass movement and interior deformation. The structural properties derived from these datasets will inform the interpretation of the DART impact outcome, she said, potentially guiding the design of future spacecraft that could interact with these bodies.

“The formation of binary asteroid systems with a fast-rotating primary remains a mystery in near-Earth asteroid science,” said Zhang. “Hera will be the first mission to closely examine such systems. A better understanding of their surface and interior structural properties will inform theories about their formation and evolution.”  

DART was the first planetary defense test mission from NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which oversees the agency’s ongoing efforts in planetary defense. International participation in DART and Hera, including the Hera Participating Scientist Program, has been enabled by an ongoing worldwide collaboration in the planetary defense research community known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment.

DART was designed, built, and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which oversees the agency’s ongoing efforts in planetary defense.

To learn more about NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:

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