The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a €129m contract to develop a spacecraft for Nasa.

The two agencies are jointly working on an international asteroid deflection project called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). 

The contract has been awarded to a consortium led by prime contractor OHB System and covers detailed design, manufacturing and testing of the Hera probe. 

Hera is due to launch in 2024 and would travel to a binary asteroid system, the Didymos pair of near-Earth asteroids. 

The probe will reach Didymos in 2026 and conduct a sustained exploration of the double asteroid system. 

As part of this project, Nasa will launch the DART spacecraft next July, which will be set on a kinetic impact with the Dimorphos asteroid in 2022.  

Reuters quoted ESA director Rolf Densing as saying: “We want to try for the first time to steer an asteroid on its potential collision course with Earth.”  

OHB chief executive Marco Fuchs was quoted by the news agency as saying: “You have to steer very precisely, you have to find it first and then approach it in such a way that you can really observe what has happened as a result of the impact of the American probe.”  

In February, the ESA announced the successful launch of its Airbus-built Sun-observing satellite Solar Orbiter onboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V 411 rocket, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, US.