The European Space Agency (ESA) is now working on the detailed definition of the proposed Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM). If approved, AIM will be the first-ever spacecraft to probe a binary asteroid system.

ESA's AIM project will target the double asteroid system called Didymos in October 2020. According to the agency, the mission will be part of the first planetary defense method demonstration together with NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor spacecraft. The mission will also demonstrate new technology that will allow the spacecraft to autonomously navigate the asteroid system.

Now, companies across Europe are teaming up to discuss the different aspects of the mission.

"We've started our detailed definition work with industry, while the decision on full implementation of the mission will be taken at ESA's Council of Ministers next month," Ian Carnelli, mission manager, said in a statement. "This is a very important step to maintain our pace and test new approaches enabling faster mission implementation by integrating ESA, industry and payload teams."

AIM is a mission with a sense of urgency because the asteroid Didymos continues to move for a close encounter with Earth on 2022. The agency aims to maintain the pace, as over 40 companies across 15 ESA Member States have been shaping a highly innovative and fast mission.

The mission is scheduled to arrive a few months ahead of DART's impact. Upon arrival, the AIM spacecraft, which is about the size of a desk, will transition into a heliocentric co-flying orbit and will conduct the initial characterization phase of Didymos. The spacecraft will then deploy two CubeSats for complementary observations and the Mascot-2 microlander to carry out a detailed characterization of the asteroid's deep interior.

"It is inspiring to see the progress on the AIM design as NASA continues this innovative collaboration with ESA in the joint Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment," Lindley Johnson, program executive of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, said in the same statement.

"Our joint concept has significant strategic benefit to both space agencies. While both missions would have substantial independent results, this collaborative endeavor will yield considerably greater benefits for international efforts on asteroid impact threat mitigation," Johnson added.