The European Space Agency (ESA) and Nasa have announced that, as part of a joint mission, they will send a spacecraft towards a small asteroid in a bid to knock it off its course. The two continental forces are doing this as a practice run to prepare for any potential asteroids that could come hurtling towards Earth.

The Aida (Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment) project will involve sending a spacecraft to a small asteroid – measuring around 160m wide – named Didymoon. The relatively small space rock orbits a much larger asteroid called Didymos.

Another spacecraft will join the "nudger" as it looks to monitor the effects and to see if it is successful. They will be launched in October 2020 and are expected to collide with the asteroid in May 2022.

Dr Patrick Michel, lead investigator for the ESA, told scientists at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) in Nantes, France: "To protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts, we need to understand asteroids much better – what they are made of, their structure, origins and how they respond to collisions.

"Aida will be the first mission to study an asteroid binary system, as well as the first to test whether we can deflect an asteroid through an impact with a spacecraft. The European part of the mission... will study the structure of Didymoon and the orbit and rotation of the binary system, providing clues to its origin and evolution."

In recent times, Didymos has been the asteroid that has been in the closest proximity to Earth. In 2003, it rocketed by us, but was still some 7.18 million km away.