NASA selects Brown planetary scientist to join European Space Agency’s Hera mission

Ingrid Daubar will be among the scientists to explore planetary defense and near-Earth asteroid science as part of the mission, scheduled to launch in October 2024.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University planetary scientist Ingrid Daubar is among 12 scientists NASA has selected to join the European Space Agency’s Hera mission, which will study the binary asteroid system Didymos, including the moonlet Dimorphos.

Daubar, an associate professor (research) of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences, is no stranger to space missions, having worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for nine years in addition to her work at Brown. A specialist in impact cratering and impact-seismic studies on extraterrestrial bodies, Daubar was honored to be selected for the five-year appointment to the Hera Participating Scientist Program and is eager to bring her expertise to the Hera mission.

Impact cratering is my favorite geologic process. This will give me a chance to extend that work to asteroids.

Ingrid Daubar Associate Professor (research) of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences
Photo of Ingrid Daubar

“I was so surprised and honored to be selected to be part of the Hera mission team,” Daubar said. “I am super excited to be able to contribute to such an impactful project, not just for exploration but also for planetary defense.”

The mission will study the outcome of the 2022 Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, a NASA experiment to determine whether striking an asteroid with a spacecraft could deflect it from a collision course with Earth. Known as DART, the mission purposely collided with the asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a larger asteroid, Didymos, as part of a binary pair. For the Hera mission, the European Space Agency will send a craft to the same asteroid DART struck, Dimorphos, to examine how DART deflected the meteorite and gather detailed observations of the impact crater left by DART.

This is where Daubar comes in. At Brown, she studies impact cratering on extraterrestrial bodies, particularly on Mars, the Moon, and Jupiter’s moon Europa, among other geologic observations. As an impact crater specialist, she will help prepare the mission to examine the impact crater DART left in Dimorphos and conduct experiments on Earth to prepare the team for the mission.

“Impact cratering is my favorite geologic process,” she explained. “This will give me a chance to extend that work to asteroids.”

While the work may seem theoretical, the fate of humanity is potentially wrapped up in the results of this mission, according to Daubar. The Hera mission’s findings will determine how well DART succeeded in deflecting an asteroid and inform future defenses against a potential asteroid impact.

“It’s really important for humanity, for us to understand how we can protect ourselves in the future,” Daubar said.

The Hera mission is scheduled to launch in October 2024 and expected to arrive at the Didymos/Dimorphos binary asteroid system at the end of 2026, where it will gather data about the mass and makeup of both bodies and assess the changes caused by the DART impact. 

International participation in DART and Hera, including the Hera Participating Scientist Program for which Daubar was selected, is enabled by an ongoing worldwide collaboration in the planetary defense research community known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment.