The DART mission, a Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will be the first agency’s use of the kinetic impactor technique, in which a large, high-speed spacecraft is sent into an asteroid’s path to change its motion. NASA is set to conduct the mission, what it calls “the first test for planetary defense. The launch is scheduled for 10:20 p.m. PT Nov. 23 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
DART mission will hitch a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to a near-Earth asteroid system called (65803) Didymos. The spacecraft will separate from the rocket and cruise for about a year before it is expected to intercept (65803) Didymos in September 2022.
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The craft is equipped with a camera to help guide it to Dimorphos and an Italian-made satellite cube that will detach from the spacecraft before the impact and take pictures of the collision. DART mission will also use solar panels to charge electric ion thrusters, demonstrating another emerging space propulsion technology, NASA said.
NASA plans to capture the whole thing on video. Ten days before DART’s mission asteroid impact, the agency will launch a miniaturized satellite, A companion spacecraft operated by the Italian Space Agency, called the Light Italian CubeSat for Imagine Asteroids (LICIACube), equipped with two optical cameras. The goal will be for the cubesat to fly past Dimorphos around three minutes after DART mission hits its moonlet, allowing the cameras to capture images of the impact’s effects.
The DART mission is reminiscent of the 1998 sci-fi action movie “Armageddon,” in which the space agency deploys a team of civilians to land on an asteroid and detonate it before it destroys Earth. DART’s mission ultimate goal is to gain information on how space organizations can defend Earth from deadly asteroids hurtling towards us in the future.
It comprises a 780-meter-wide body orbited by a 160-meter-wide moonlet, “which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth,” NASA said.
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In March of this year, a quarter-mile-wide asteroid flew through space at a speed of 77,000 miles per hour. It was five times farther from Earth than the moon, but that’s actually considered pretty close when the context is the whole solar system.
The asteroid is roughly 780 meters across — about 2,559 feet, according to NASA. Its moonlet is about 525 feet, which according to NASA, is “more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth.”
There’s still no danger of anything colliding with Earth or threatening human lives. But NASA’s DART mission plans to purposely crash a spacecraft into an asteroid to try to alter its path.
NASA is conducting the DART mission to evaluate the technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from striking the Earth. DART mission will intentionally crash into an asteroid, to change its motion in space.
The DART mission, developed and led for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, uses a “low-cost” spacecraft that will be outfitted with two solar arrays making it a total 27.9 feet long, said the project website.
DART mission will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but it’s not going to crash into the asteroid’s moon for another 10 months. NASA said that it will be cruising in space until September 2022, when the Didymos system is within 11 million kilometers of Earth.
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This asteroid deflection technology’s target is Dimorphos. Dimorphos is a tiny moon orbiting the asteroid Didymos, which is a near-Earth asteroid. On behalf of planetary defense, NASA is carrying out its first full-scale demonstration of this type of technology.
NASA’s primary focus is to detect the threat of near-Earth objects (NEOs), as they could cause potential harm. Asteroids and comets whose orbits place them within 30 million miles of the Earth can be qualified as near-Earth objects.
If all goes to plan, the DART mission craft will crash into the moonlet’s surface at a speed of roughly 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h), obliterating the spacecraft on impact. This high-speed crash will barely phase the asteroid, causing it to lose a fraction of a percent of its velocity, according to NASA.
The DART mission spacecraft will crash into the moonlet nearly head-on at about 6.6 kilometers per second, a speed that’s faster than a bullet and rapid enough to change the speed of the moonlet by a fraction of 1%, NASA says. Though it appears like a small change, this impact will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes.
“The Earth is hit by asteroids and pieces of asteroids all the time. Every year or so, we get hit by things the size of a table,” said Andy Rivkin. He said that objects like Dimorphos and Didymos hit Earth every few thousand years and are large enough to cause significant damage “on a regional scale”.
And that’s not all the observation the mission will get. The European Space Agency plans to launch its Hera spacecraft (named for the Greek goddess of marriage!) in 2024 to see the effects of DART Mission up close and in detail. As the agency notes in its description of the Hera mission, “By the time Hera reaches Didymos, in 2026, Dimorphos will have achieved historic significance: the first object in the solar system to have its orbit shifted by human effort in a measurable way.”
NASA closely monitors all known near-Earth objects that could come within 1.3 astronomical units (1.3 times the distance between Earth and the sun) of our planet. So far, the agency has detected more than 8,000 near-Earth asteroids with a diameter greater than 460 feet (140 m) — or rocks large enough to wipe out an entire state if they were to land a direct hit on the U.S.
A 3-mile-wide chunk of space ice passed within 64 million miles of the planet in July. And in 2019, a 427-foot-wide “city-killer” asteroid that scientists had no idea about until several days before it flew by came within 45 million miles of Earth.