The study of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) has opened new frontiers in planetary sciences in the last decades due to the fact that their proximity makes them the most accessible bodies in our solar system. Their investigation can offer the answers to several hot topics in modern planetology (e.g. planetary formation, delivery of water and organics on early Earth, emergence of life). Furthermore, NEOs represent a risk for future human civilization, since some of them can be potential impactors. For all these reasons, the characterization of NEO physical properties is an essential topic in planetary sciences, from both ground and space.
In this context, the NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will be the first mission demonstrating the applicability of the kinetic impactor to change to motion of an asteroid in space and prevent the impact of Earth with a hazardous object . “LICIACube - the Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids” - is managed by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and will be part of the DART mission. LICIACube will be equipped with two optical cameras: LEIA (Liciacube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid), a catadioptric camera composed of two reflective elements and three refractive elements with a FoV of ± 2.06° on the sensor diagonal, and LUKE (Liciacube Unit Key Explorer), a camera with a RGB Bayer pattern filter designed for a deep of field from 400 m to infinity.
After the release from the DART spacecraft, LICIACube will be autonomously guided to a fast fly-by with the target, reaching a minimum distance of about 55 km, and will acquire several images of the target impact and non-impact sides, as well as of the plume produced by the DART impact, with the aim: i) to document the DART impact’s effects on Dimorphos, the secondary member of the Didymos binary system, ii) to characterize the shape of the target, and iii) to perform dedicated scientific investigations on it.
Acknowledgements: We acknowledge financial support from Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI, contract No. 2019-31-HH.0 CUP F84I190012600).
Cheng, A. F., et al., Plan. Space Sci., Vol. 157, pp. 104-115, 2018.
Dotto, E., et al., Plan. Space Sci., 2020, accepted.