Technologies to reveal the composition of asteroids
The Politecnico di Milano coordinates the CRADLE Project
The Politecnico di Milano is coordinator of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship (MSCA-IF) CRADLE (Collecting Asteroid-Orbiting Samples) project, which aims to make asteroid exploration more robust and self-sufficient through innovative solutions for the collection of asteroid and comet dust samples.
Asteroids and comets hold fundamental clues about the birth and evolution of our Solar System. They are rich in valuable natural resources such as metals, silicates and water, all of which could be exploited through future extraction missions and enable long-term self-sustaining space travel. However, the physical composition of asteroids is varied and, for the most part, relatively unknown.
The aim of the CRADLE project, led by Mirko Trisolini, researcher for the COMPASS team in the Department of Aerospace Science and Technology at the Politecnico di Milano, is precisely to improve our understanding of asteroids by revealing the dynamics and composition of their dust.
CRADLE explores new ways of collecting asteroid samples by studying how to collect particles whilst they are still in orbit, without having to land, thus avoiding complex and high-risk operations.
By striking the asteroid with a small but fast projectile, the particles that make up the samples can be dislodged. Once the asteroid is hit, the particles are ejected from the impact crater; the way in which they do this depends on the nature of the impact itself and the properties of the target.
It is a complex process, for which we use statistical models, also integrating images of the impact event and impact site. The collection of particles in orbit is based on predicting particle positions after impact; therefore, improving the robustness of impact analysis combined with statistical analysis methods is of paramount importance. In-orbit collection also means figuring out where to position the spacecraft in relation to the asteroid, as well as what type of collection tool it should be equipped with.
CRADLE therefore studies particle movement around the asteroid to predict which areas will be the most favourable for collection and, by estimating the number of particles that will become dislodged, calculates the size of instrument required for collection.
Mirko Trisolini is working to discover the dynamics of asteroid dust at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, under the supervision of Prof. Camilla Colombo (Politecnico di Milano) and Prof. Yuichi Tsuda (JAXA), Project Manager of the Hayabusa2 mission that collected samples from the Ryugu asteroid and brought them back to Earth.