The countdown has begun and the rocket is now in position to begin its journey to intercept the asteroid.
On November 24, 2021 the POT launched the DART spacecraft into space, an extraordinary, unprecedented mission: it must hit an asteroid to divert it from its orbit in order to test the technology that would be necessary to avoid a collision with Earth.
Now, after almost ten months of flight, the NASA spacecraft already has its goal in sight. The Space Agency has published the first picture captured from the ship.
It is a binary system of asteroids relatively close to Earth, formed by Didymos, about 780 meters in diameter, and Dimorphos, about 160 meters, which is where the impact will occur.
The dart ship of course it is much smaller than the asteroid: it measures a hundred times less. But the objective is not to destroy it, but to divert it and thus nullify a possible threat.
The impact against Dimorphos will occur on September 26, and the event will be broadcast live. Although neither of the two asteroids is a danger to us, the test is part of the NASA Planetary Defense programIt will be the first of its kind in the world.
What is NASA’s DART mission?
The DART spacecraft double asteroid redirection test) of NASA was encapsulated in November 2021 in the payload area of the rocket Falcon 9 of SpaceX, at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The launch was executed on November 24 last and everything went smoothly.
“This is really the beginning of the culmination of the work and effort of hundreds of people at NASA and other centers over many years,” he said timely after the launch. Kelly Fasta scientist with the space agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, which is proceeding according to plan so far, is the world’s first large-scale planetary defense test, which demonstrates a method of asteroid deflection technology. It is the first mission to test technologies that prevent possible asteroid impacts, or their threat.
Living up to its name, DART is a mission focused on proving that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it (what is called kinetic impact) at about 6 kilometers per second.
His goal, which poses no threat to Earth, is the asteroid Dimorphos (Greek for “two shapes”), which orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos (Greek for “twin”).
As part of NASA’s broader planetary defense strategy, DART will simultaneously test new technologies and provide important data to improve collision modeling and prediction capabilities and prepare space agencies for prevent future asteroid threatsin case one is discovered.
“Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets orbiting our Sun are potentially dangerous to Earth and, at least for the next century, no known asteroid threatens our planet“, explains the US space agency on the DART mission website.
DART is designed to demonstrate that an asteroid that could cause regional devastation – one just a few hundred meters across – can be deflected by intentionally crashing a spacecraft into it.
“This method, called kinetic impact deflectionis just one of several proposed methods to redirect potentially dangerous asteroids, but it is currently the most technologically mature method,” explains NASA. After the impact, the research team will measure the extent of the asteroid’s deflection using telescopes on Earth.
DART has several integrated systems that will allow a series of data to be sent prior to the impact, which will be followed from Earth and is expected to occur the next September 26, 2022. Astrophysicists have made a series of calculations on paper, and DART’s kinetic collision test, relayed back to Earth with the spacecraft’s onboard systems, will reveal whether reality conforms to expectations.
In addition, DART has a camera called LICIACube, developed by the Italian Space Agency, which will undock ten days before the collision to capture the event.
DART also carries on board a autonomous navigation system developed by the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the SMARTNav. This system allows the ship to guide itself without the help of the operator. DART is expected to autonomously identify and distinguish between Didymos and Dimorphos, and then independently steer and maneuver the spacecraft during its final four hours before impact.
The spacecraft is about 100 times smaller than Dimorphos, so it won’t destroy the asteroid. “This is not going to destroy the asteroid, it just will give you a little push and divert your way around the largest asteroid,” said Nancy Chabot, DART coordination lead at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.