This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

18 August 2011

Media Confusion on ESA Don Quijote Mission

A recent spate of news articles over the last 1-2 days needed some clarification regarding the ESA asteroid mission Don Quijote. I have noticed an inordinate amount of web articles on this mission yesterday and today (August 16-17), several years after it was analyzed as a potential mission concept study.

From some preliminary investigating it seems as if some of the articles/blogs that have carried this new item across the planet have indicated that the asteroid Apophis is a mission target (which it was not) and suggesting that the mission is more truly funded than it is (indicating a launch in 2015). One of the referenced articles is the London Daily Mail article. Another article is from Gizmodo and another article is from RedOrbit. These articles/posts seem to have been picked up and referenced by other news sources.

This FoxNews article attempts to correct the interpretation, the following comes from the article: "If an asteroid were ever detected, we'd want to do something -- and deflection is definitely one of the options," an ESA source told But despite a Daily Mail story touting the program as current, Don Quijote has long been shuttered. "The Don Quijote mission has been a study only. ESA is not working on this mission anymore," ESA spokesman Andreas Schepers told

My current perception is that this was a mission study that was never picked up by ESA for an actual mission (such as a NASA Discovery Class mission) since it was developed in a slightly different administrative area of ESA. UPDATE: The mission was initiated and performed by the ESA General Studies Programme in ESA's Future and Strategic Studies Office (with the technical support of the Concurrent Design Facility - CDF). The "missions" part of ESA did not pick up this concept study for an actual mission (my own estimate of ESA's organizational structure may be slightly off, but the general concept is probably correct). There may be attempts in the next 2-3 years to market this mission concept by ESA to its management within the EU but my opinion is that there is no actual funded mission as such as indicated in these articles (unfortunately for those with an interest in this area).

Generally, I think one would want to be very careful of any asteroid mitigation demonstration mission on the asteroid Apophis. That would probably be a test target of last resort. Given the uncertainty of effect of any impact mitigation mission, one would want to choose a relatively benign target (which Apophis is not given potential for disruption in its orbit during certain keyhole passes at a minimum). This comment is not mean to be any negative comment on any one specific news source but an attempt to clarify the general media record.

Here is some accurate information from the European Space Agency (ESA) on the mission: Don Quijote mission page.

Update: Video Report from Australia that also potentially adds confusion to the story in terms of the current status of the Don Quijote mission.
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