Science

NASA To Launch Double Asteroid Redirection Test Mission – Preventing a Hazardous Asteroid From Striking Earth


Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins, APL/Steve Gribben

NASA is ready for the upcoming launch of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, an evaluation of technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from striking Earth.

DART is targeted to launch at 10:20 p.m. PST, November 23, 2021, (1:20 a.m. EST, November 24), aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Live coverage of the launch will air on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique, which involves sending one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an asteroid in space to change its motion. Its target is the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos and its moonlet.

NASA DART Impacting Asteroid

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test, DART, mission is intended to collide with the smaller of two bodies of the Didymos binary asteroid system in autumn 2022. Credit: ESA

DART is a planetary defense-driven test of technologies for preventing an impact of Earth by a hazardous asteroid. DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space.

The binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos is the target for the DART demonstration. While the Didymos primary body is approximately 780 meters across, its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 160-meters in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth. The Didymos binary is being intensely observed using telescopes on Earth to precisely measure its properties before DART arrives.

The DART spacecraft will achieve the kinetic impact deflection by deliberately crashing itself into the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6.6 km/s, with the aid of an onboard camera (named DRACO) and sophisticated autonomous navigation software. The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth.

DART Spacecraft With ROSA Arrays

Illustration of the DART spacecraft with the Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) extended. Each of the two ROSA arrays in 8.6 meters by 2.3 meters. Credit: NASA

Once launched, DART will deploy Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) to provide the solar power needed for DART’s electric propulsion system. The DART spacecraft will demonstrate the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial (NEXT-C) solar electric propulsion system as part of its in-space propulsion. NEXT-C is a next-generation system based on the Dawn spacecraft propulsion system, and was developed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. By utilizing electric propulsion, DART could benefit from significant flexibility to the mission timeline while demonstrating the next generation of ion engine technology, with applications to potential future NASA missions.

DART will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. After separation from the launch vehicle and over a year of cruise it will intercept Didymos’ moonlet in late September 2022, when the Didymos system is within 11 million kilometers of Earth, enabling observations by ground-based telescopes and planetary radar to measure the change in momentum imparted to the moonlet.





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