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Asteroids - Missions to the Asteroids

There have been a number of missions involving probes sent to study asteroids.

In addition, you may want to check out AeroSpaceGuide. This site has some interesting facts as well as mission summaries. There is also a section on NEO's.

Past Missions:

While not a dedicated probe for studying asteroids, the Galileo probe encountered three asteroids on its way to Jupiter. The first encounter was with 951 Gaspra, the second with 243 Ida and third was Dactyl. Galileo discovered, by surprise, that Dactyl is actually a satellite of 243 Ida.

The remarkable NEAR Shoemaker probe was the first probe dedicated to the study of an asteroid. Launched in 1996, the probe encountered 253 Mathilda in June of 1997. 433 Eros was encountered in December of 1999 and a return to 433 Eros resulted in a successful landing on February 12, 2001.

The Deep Space 1 probes was designed to visit a comet and an asteroid. Launched in 1998, the probe reached its asteroid target, 9969 Braille, in July of 1999.

The Stardust mission is a sample return probe that will return samples of particles from comet Wild 2. To test the probes onboard systems, Stardust was aimed at asteroid Annefrank on November 2, 2002 while on its way to the target comet.

Present Missions:

The only current asteroid mission is the Japanese probes Hayabusa. This is a sample return mission that was launched in May of 2003. Rendezvous with its target Itokawa is expected to be in October of 2005. The probe is expected back on Earth in June of 2007.

The Future:

NASA's Dawn project is expected for a May 2006 launch. While still in its planning stages, the probe will orbit two of the larger asteroids Ceres and Vesta. The purpose of the mission is to determine the environments during our Solar System's formation: Ceres was cooled by water during formation while Vestas' formation was more "hot and violent."

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