NASA successfully launches DART mission to test asteroid deflection

NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was launched on November 24, 2021 at 1:21 a.m. EST on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, United States. At 2:17 a.m. EST, DART separated from the second stage of the rocket. Minutes later, mission operators received the spacecraft’s first telemetry data and began the process of orienting the spacecraft to a safe position for the deployment of its solar panels. About two hours later, the spacecraft successfully completed the deployment of its two 8.5m-long (28-foot) solar panels. DART’s unique instrument, the Didymos Asteroid and Reconnaissance Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO), will power up in a week and provide the first images of the spacecraft. DART will continue to travel just outside of Earth’s orbit around the Sun for the next 10 months to its target – the binary asteroid system Didymos – will be at a distance relatively close to 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.

DART is the very first mission dedicated to the study and demonstration of a method of deflecting asteroids by modifying the motion of an asteroid in space by kinetic impact.

This method will cause DART to deliberately collide with a target asteroid – which poses no threat to Earth – in order to slightly alter its speed and trajectory.

“DART turns science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

“In addition to all the ways that NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we are also working to protect this home, and this test will help prove a viable way to protect our planet from a dangerous asteroid should we ever find out that is heading towards Earth.

DART’s target is the Didymos near-Earth asteroid binary system, consisting of Didymos approximately 780 m (2,560 feet) in diameter and the smaller Dimorphos, approximately 160 m (530 feet) in size. , which orbits Didymos.

DART will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system.

Since Dimorphos revolves around Didymos at a much slower relative speed than the pair revolves around the Sun, the result of the kinetic impact of DART in the binary system can be measured much more easily than a change in orbit d ‘a single asteroid around the Sun.

This illustration shows NASA’s DART spacecraft and ASI’s LICIACube spacecraft prior to impact on the Didymos binary asteroid system. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Steve Gribben.

“We have not yet found a significant threat of asteroid impact on Earth, but we are continuing to search for this large population that we know is still untraceable,” said Dr Lindley Johnson, defense officer planetary at NASA Headquarters.

“Our goal is to find any possible impact, years or even decades in advance, so that it can be deflected with a capability like DART that is possible with the technology we have now. “

“DART is one aspect of NASA’s work to prepare Earth if we ever face an asteroid danger. “

“Along with this test, we are preparing the Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, a space infrared telescope slated for launch later this decade and designed to accelerate our ability to discover and characterize potentially dangerous asteroids and comets that are found within 30 million miles from Earth’s orbit.

DART will intercept the Didymos system between September 26 and October 1, 2022, intentionally hitting Dimorphos at around 6 km per second (4 mph).

Scientists estimate that the kinetic impact will shorten Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by several minutes.

LICIACube, a DART-mounted CubeSat supplied by the Italian Space Agency, will be released ahead of DART impact to capture images of the impact and the resulting ejected cloud of matter.

Approximately four years after the impact of DART, ESA’s Hera project will perform detailed surveys of the two asteroids, with particular emphasis on the crater left by the DART collision and precise determination of the mass of Dimorphos.

“It is an indescribable feeling to see something that you have been involved in since the ‘words on paper’ stage became real and launched into space,” said Dr Andy Cheng, one of the responsible for the DART investigation at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. and the person who came up with the idea for DART.

“This is only the end of the first act, and DART’s investigation and engineering teams have a lot of work to do over the next year or so to prepare for the main event: DART’s kinetic impact on Dimorphos. But tonight, we’re celebrating!

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