NASA’s Celestial Demolition Derby…how cool is that!

This spectacular image of comet Tempel 1 was taken 67 seconds after it obliterated Deep Impact’s impactor spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Currently, Bhaskaran is running simulations that make his virtual impactor go splat against the furrowed, organic-rich regolith of asteroid 1999 RQ36. The 1,600-foot-wide (500-meter-wide) space rock is the target of a proposed JPL mission called the Impactor for Surface and Interior Science (ISIS). The impactor spacecraft, which looks a little like a rocket-powered wedding ring, would hitch a free ride into space aboard the rocket carrying NASA’s InSight mission to Mars. The impactor’s trajectory would then loop around Mars and bear down on RQ36.
“One of the things that helps me sleep at night is that we know a lot about RQ36 because it is the target of another NASA mission called OSIRIS-REx,” said Bhaskaran. “But it also provides some challenges because the scientists want us to hit the asteroid at a certain moment in time and at a certain location, so that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft can be sure to monitor the results from a safe vantage point. It is a challenge but it’s also really exciting.”

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