European funding for asteroid project

Spacecraft And Space Station

A pan-European research project, which will investigate how to explore and exploit asteroids and make the use of space sustainable, has received €4 million in European funding.

The Stardust Reloaded project, led by Professor Massimiliano Vasile of the University of Strathclyde, was awarded the money through the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Initial Training Networks (ITN) action of the European Union H2020 programme.

The ITN award, part of the EU’s Horizon2020 research programme, is the latest of three Professor Vasile has won over the last six years, totalling €12 million, following the first Stardust project in 2012 and his UTOPIAE project in 2015, which looks at advanced mathematics to design better aerospace systems.

The original Stardust project, which kicked-off in 2013, pioneered new techniques for asteroid and space debris monitoring, removal and deflection, exploiting for the first time the synergies between the communities studying asteroids in and around the solar system, and the one studying space debris locally around the Earth.

Stardust Reloaded will take a leap further, to understand the evolution of the space environment around Earth and how the ever-increasing traffic in space can be safely managed to prevent inevitable collisions and allow a sustainable use of space. A necessity for the future that is increasingly reliant on space-based products.

The four-year project will also increase our knowledge of the shape, gravity, composition and dynamics of asteroids and comets in view of possible actions to prevent a catastrophic impact with the Earth, and how mineral resources on these celestial minor bodies could be exploited to enhance our exploration of the Solar System.

Professor Vasile said: “There are so many people launching satellites now – particularly smaller and smaller ones – that the risk of collision, and with it the risk of setting off a cascade, is greatly increasing.

“With this project we aim to understand how the growth in satellites orbiting Earth affects the evolution of the space environment and how we can best manage that.

Opportunity

“Asteroids and space debris represent a significant hazard for space and terrestrial assets, but also an opportunity.

“In the case of asteroids, we want to explore new ways of travelling to them, exploring them and characterising them with a view to understanding how we might exploit them with technologies still under development.”

The Stardust Reloaded study comprises 20 partners including the European, French and German space agencies and will help to fund 15 early-stage career researchers.

The goal of Stardust Reloaded is to conduct cutting edge research by training young researchers with skills that go far above the norm, ranging from entrepreneurial to regulatory, looking forward with leadership skills for their futures and developing educational platforms for the even younger generations to come. 

Professor Vasile added: “These funding opportunities are extremely competitive with a success rate of around just six or seven percent.

“So it is incredibly satisfying to have been so successful with our applications. It is a reflection of the quality of the projects and the prestige of the partners involved.”