Jun 30, 2017 | By Benedict

June 30 is Asteroid Day, an annual global event that aims to raise awareness about asteroids and their potential impact on Earth. To mark the occasion, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have gone 3D.

Most of us have some idea of what an asteroid looks like, but—for better or worse—few of us have have ever got up close and personal with one of the small, rocky bodies. Fortunately, the European Space Agency might just rectify that state of affairs, having creating a set of 3D printed planetary models for testing purposes.

According to ESA, these 3D printed scale models of asteroids and other planetary bodies are not mere curios: they’re used for real-life testing of spacecraft navigation and landing systems.

“The models are based on accurate digital elevation model data gathered from past space missions,” explains Olivier Dubois-Matra of ESA's Guidance, Navigation and Control Section. “We then add color and surface finishing. Asteroids and comets do tend to be very dark—the images usually seen have been lightened and enhanced to reveal detail.”

Serious stuff then, but we’d still hope that these professionally made 3D printed asteroids might someday find their way into classrooms, museums, or even the internet for the public to get a closer look at.

When the 3D printed models are being put to their proper use, they are orbited by mobile cameras which give the equivalent of a spacecraft's eye-view. This, according to ESA, enables the real-world testing of guidance and landing software and systems, which are often based on the mapping of surface features.

Physical testing, which utilizes the 3D printed asteroids, can even be carried out in tandem with virtual testing. Dedicated systems such as the Planetary and Asteroid Natural scene Generation Utility or Pangu software are frequently used by ESA to do so.

ESA made this information public to mark Asteroid Day.

Across the Atlantic, NASA is also doing its bit to mark the occasion, and the U.S. space agency has also been turning asteroids into 3D models, albeit virtual ones.

Researchers at NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office are creating 3D models and using one of NASA's most powerful supercomputers to produce “simulations of hypothetical asteroid impact scenarios.”

The results of these simulations could help first responders and other agencies protect humans against life-threatening asteroid events.

With NASA's Cart3D and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's ALE3D modeling software loaded up, NASA’s incredibly powerful Pleiades supercomputer has been used to run high-fidelity simulations of potential asteroids. This all takes place at the Asteroid Threat Assessment Project, located at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

In 2013, an asteroid struck the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, with the blast breaking windows and damaging buildings up to 58 miles away. More than 1,200 people were injured.

NASA has been able to run large-scale simulations of the Chelyabinsk event on Pleiades, rapidly producing many impact scenarios. The detailed simulations have allowed the asteroid experts to model the “fluid flow” that occurs when asteroids melt and vaporize as they break up in the atmosphere.

Happy Asteroid Day to you all!



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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