Don Quijote (spacecraft)

Don Quijote
Mission type Orbiter, impactor, and lander
Operator European Space Agency
Website Don Quijote concept
Spacecraft properties
Bus Modified SMART-1[1]
Launch mass Orbiter: 491 kg (1,082 lb)
Lander: 1,694 kg (3,735 lb)
Dry mass Orbiter: 395 kg (871 lb)
Lander: 532 kg (1,173 lb)
Payload mass Orbiter: 20.6 kg (45 lb)
Lander: 9 kg (20 lb)
Start of mission
Launch date Studied for a 2015 launch
Orbital parameters
Reference system Heliocentric
2003 SM84
or 99942 Apophis[2] orbiter
Spacecraft component Sancho
Orbits Months
2003 SM84
or 99942 Apophis[2] impactor
Spacecraft component Hidalgo
2003 SM84
or 99942 Apophis[2] lander
Spacecraft component Autonomous Surface Package

Don Quijote is a past space probe concept that has been studied[when?] by the European Space Agency, and which would investigate the effects of crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to test whether a spacecraft could successfully deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. The orbiter was designed to last for seven years. The mission did not proceed beyond initial studies, currently ESA is working on Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission as a part of its NEO space mission studies.[3]


The mission would have consisted of two spacecraft that would execute a series of maneuvers around a small, 500-metre (1,600-foot) asteroid.[3]

  • The first spacecraft, Sancho, was intended to arrive at the asteroid and orbit it for several months, studying it. The orbiter would have used a single xenon ion engine.
  • After a few months, the second spacecraft, Hidalgo, would have hurtled toward the asteroid on a collision course. Having “slept” for most of the trip, it would have then steered itself using optical sensors with an accuracy of 50 meters. Sancho would have retreated to a safe distance while Hidalgo hit the asteroid at around 10 km/s.
  • Sancho would have then returned to its close orbit and observed how much the asteroid's shape, internal structure, orbit and rotation might have been affected by the impact.[1]
  • Sancho would then release the Autonomous Surface Package, a lander which would then free-fall toward the asteroid for two hours before landing. This package would have been directed towards the interior of the impact crater where it would investigate properties of the surface.

Don Quijote was one of six Near Earth Object precursor studies funded by ESA's General Studies Programme, other missions being: EUNEOS (European NEO Survey), Earthguard-I, NERO (NEO Remote Observations), SIMONE (Smallsat Intercept Missions to Objects Near Earth) and ISHTAR (Internal Structure High-resolution Tomography by Asteroid Rendezvous).[4]


The craft would have been launched by a Vega launcher and a Star 48 upper stage. The ESA considered two design options: the "Cheap Option" using a chemical propulsion system, and the "Flexible Option" using an electric propulsion system. The former would have been targeted to the Amor asteroid 2003 SM84, the latter to the asteroid 99942 Apophis.[2]


Sancho (orbiter)

The instruments on the orbiter were classified into those essential to the success of the mission and those for the completion of extended mission objectives. The primary instruments were the Radio Science Experiment, Orbiter Camera, Imaging Laser Altimeter, and a LIDAR instrument. For the extended mission objectives, the orbiter would have carried an IR Spectrometer, a Thermal IR Imager, an X-Ray Spectrometer, a Radiation Monitor and the Autonomous Surface Package (ASP).[1]

Hidalgo (impactor)

Unlike many other spacecraft, the goal of the Hidalgo impactor was to be as massive as possible upon reaching the target asteroid; because of this goal, the propulsion module would not have been jettisoned after use. The impactor was to carry few subsystems to make it as low-cost and maneuverable as possible. It would have had no moving appendages (solar panels, etc.) to complicate orientation, using only its RCS thrusters for course corrections, and it was to have a high-resolution targeting camera for ~50 m targeting accuracy on impact. The LISA Pathfinder design was considered an initial design reference.[1]


Originally, the ESA identified two near-Earth asteroids as possible targets: 2002 AT4 and (10302) 1989 ML. Neither asteroid represents a threat to Earth.[2] In a subsequent study, two different possibilities were selected: the Amor asteroid 2003 SM84 and 99942 Apophis; the latter is of particular significance to Earth as it will make a close approach in 2029 and 2036.[2]

In 2005, the proposed mission was combined with AIDA, with the target selected as a binary asteroid, so that the effect of the deflection would be seen even from Earth by observing the period of the binary. The targets were 2002 AT4 and (10302) 1989 ML.[5]

The current target for AIDA is the binary asteroid 65803 Didymos.[6][7][8]


The mission was named after the fictional Spanish knight from Miguel de Cervantes' renowned novel, Don Quixote, who charged against a windmill, thinking it to be a giant. Like Quixote, the Hidalgo spacecraft was to 'attack' an object much larger than itself, hopefully making impressive results. 'Sancho' was named after Sancho Panza, the Quixote's squire, who preferred to stay back and watch from a safe distance, which was the role assigned to that probe. Finally, the name Hidalgo was a minor Spanish title (roughly equivalent to a Baronet), now obsolete. In the novel, it was the title Alonso Quijano had even before becoming Don Quijote.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Don Quixote concept". ESA. Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Sancho study: designing the minimum Earth escape spacecraft". ESA. 23 May 2012. Archived from the original on 15 May 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Past studies: Don Quijote". ESA. Retrieved 17 June 2015.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "NEO precursor studies". ESA. 26 February 2015. Archived from the original on 7 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  5. ^ "N° 41–2005: ESA selects targets for asteroid-deflecting mission Don Quijote" (Press release). ESA. 26 September 2005. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  6. ^ "Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment AIDA study". ESA. 26 February 2015. Archived from the original on 7 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  7. ^ "Asteroid deflection mission seeks smashing ideas". ESA. 15 January 2013. Archived from the original on 21 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Asteroid Deflection Mission AIDA Set To Crash Two Spacecraft Into Space Rock In 2022". Huffington Post. 25 March 2013. Retrieved 17 June 2015.

Further reading

External links