NASA’s DART is the world’s first large-scale mission to test technology to defend Earth against potential dangers from asteroids or comets. It was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Only part of DART will hit a known asteroid that is not a threat to Earth. Your goal is to slightly alter the asteroid’s motion in a way that can be accurately measured using ground-based telescopes.

DART will show that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate toward a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it, a deflection method called kinetic impact.

The test will provide important data to help better prepare for an asteroid that could pose an impact risk to Earth if discovered. LICIACube, a CubeSat traveling with DART and provided by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), will be launched prior to the DART impact to capture images of the impact and the resulting cloud of ejected matter. Approximately four years after the DART impact, the ESA (European Space Agency) project Hera will carry out detailed studies of both asteroids, with particular attention to the crater left by the DART collision and an accurate determination of the mass of Dimorphos.

“DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactiveness and innovation for the benefit of all,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “In addition to all the ways NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we’re also working to protect this home, and this test will help demonstrate a viable way to protect our planet from a dangerous asteroid, should it be discovered heading toward Earth “.

The spacecraft is powered by two 28-foot-long solar panels and NASA’s Xenon Evolutionary Booster: Commercial Ion Engine , one of several technologies being tested in DART for future application in space missions.

DART’s outward journey is to the Didymos asteroid system, which comprises a pair of asteroids. DART’s target is the small moon, Dimorphos, which is approximately 160 meters in diameter. The moon orbits Didymos, which is approximately 780 meters in diameter.

As Dimorphos orbits Didymos at a much slower relative velocity than the Sun’s orbital pair, the result of the kinetic impact of DART within the binary system can be measured much more easily than a change in the orbit of a single asteroid around the Sun . Sun.

“We have yet to find any significant threat of an asteroid impacting Earth, but we continue to look for this sizeable population that we know has yet to be found. Our goal is to find any possible impact, years or decades in advance, so it can be deflected with a capability like DART, possible with the technology we currently have,” explains Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters.

“DART is an aspect of NASA’s work to prepare Earth if we run into an asteroid. Along with this test, we are preparing the Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, an infrared space telescope scheduled for launch later this decade and designed to accelerate our ability to discover and characterize potentially dangerous asteroids and comets found within the 30 million. miles from Earth’s orbit.

The failure will occur between September 26th and October 1st, 2022

The spacecraft will intercept the Didymos system between September 26 and October 1, 2022, intentionally colliding with Dimorphos at approximately 4 miles per second (6 kilometers per second). Scientists estimate that the kinetic impact will shorten Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by several minutes. Researchers will accurately measure this change using telescopes on Earth. Its results will validate and improve critical scientific computer models for predicting the effectiveness of kinetic impact as a reliable method for asteroid deflection.

“It’s an indescribable feeling to see something that you’ve been involved in since the ‘words on paper’ stage became real and launched into space,” said Andy Cheng, one of the DART research leaders at APL Johns Hopkins and the person who came up with the idea of ​​DART. “This is just the end of act one, and DART’s research and engineering teams have a lot of work to do over the next year in preparation for the main event: the kinetic impact of DART on Dimorphos. But tonight we celebrate! »

DART’s only instrument, the Didymos Asteroid and Reconnaissance Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO), will turn on in a week and provide the first images of the spacecraft. DART will continue to travel out of Earth’s orbit around the Sun for the next 10 months until Didymos and Dimorphos are relatively close to 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.

A sophisticated guidance, navigation and control system, working in conjunction with algorithms called Small Body Autonomous Maneuver Real-Time Navigation (SMART Nav), will allow the DART spacecraft to identify and differentiate the two asteroids. The system will then drive the spacecraft towards Dimorphos. This entire process will take place approximately one hour after impact.

Johns Hopkins APL manages the DART mission for NASA’s Office of Planetary Defense Coordination as a project of the agency’s Office of Planetary Mission Program. NASA provides mission support from several centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and the Langley Research Center in Hampton , Virginia. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX is the launch service provider for the DART mission.

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