Astrium scoops asteroid prize

Astrium employees have won £2,600 in a Planetary Society competition for designing a mission that would gather data on Apophis, an asteroid that might collide with Earth in 2029.

The team came third in the international competition, which was run in collaboration with NASA and ESA. Astrium will donate the prize money to the scholarship fund at the International Space University.

Apophis is a 300m wide remnant of our solar system circling the Sun in an orbit that brings it close to the Earth, which will come close to the Earth in 2029 and could collide with it in 2036.

The Astrium mission proposal, dubbed Apex, would need to launch in 2013 to rendezvous with the asteroid and plot its orbit accurately, map its surface in detail, and determine its thermal properties. This data will enable space engineers to work out whether it will fly through a ‘keyhole’ near the Earth in 2029 which would lead to a collision with the planet seven years later.

If a collision is likely, a mission on how to nudge the asteroid could be planned. The speed of orbit round the Sun, its rotation and composition would be vital when planning any future mission.