NASA will launch mission to crash into a near-Earth asteroid to try to change its motion in space

This week, NASA is planning to launch a spacecraft that will purposely crash into an asteroid. At 10:20 p.m. PT (1:20 a.m. ET) on November 23, the DART mission, or the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The ceremony will be streamed live on NASA TV and NASA’s website.

Asteroid deflection technology will be put to the test in September 2022, when the spacecraft reaches its goal in the vicinity of a near-Earth object.

In order to reach Dimorphos, a tiny moon circling Didymos, the expedition will use the ion propulsion system on board the spacecraft. A full-scale demonstration of this sort of technology for planetary defence is being planned by the agency. According to the European Space Agency, this will be the first time humans have influenced the dynamics of a solar system body in a measurable way.

Asteroids and comets that pass within 30 million miles (48 million kilometres) of Earth are considered near-Earth objects. One of NASA’s key goals is to identify near-Earth objects (NEOs) that pose a hazard to Earth and its inhabitants.

“Didymos,” the Greek word for “twin,” refers to the asteroid’s binary system with the smaller asteroid or moon, which has a diameter of 525 feet (160 metres) and was identified two decades ago. As part of the DART team, Kleomenis Tsiganis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki recommended that Dimorphos be renamed “two forms.”

The DART mission should take place now. When Didymos and Dimorphos get close to Earth in September 2022, they will be within 6,835,083 miles (11 million kilometres) of us. According to Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (Laurel) in Maryland, the spacecraft will approach Dimorphos at around 15,000 miles per hour.

Autonomous navigation software, a camera on the spacecraft called DRACO, and the ability to identify and crash with Dimorphos will aid the spacecraft. Draco refers to Didymos Reconnaissance and an Asteroid Camera for OpNav.

This mission’s goal is to purposely collide with asteroid Dimorphos in order to alter its orbit, according to NASA. LICIACube, or Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids, a companion cube satellite funded by the Italian Space Agency, will record this crash. It’s the first deep space mission for the Italian Space Agency.

Before impact, the briefcase-sized CubeSat will be released from DART and begin recording. Three minutes after impact, a CubeSat will fly over Dimorphos and gather photographs and videos.

Elena Adams, a DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, expects the footage of the impact to be “very spectacular.”

NASA’s DART programme scientist Tom Statler said that astronomers will be able to compare images from Earth-based observatories before and after the kinetic impact to calculate how much Dimorphos’ orbital period altered. Asteroid response to deflection efforts will be determined by this measurement. “That’s the most important one.”

The European Space Agency’s Hera mission will revisit Didymos and Dimorphos a few years after the impact.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory created DART, while Hera’s mission crew will collaborate on AIDA, a worldwide effort to study the impact and deflection of asteroids, as part of the AIDA project.

According to a NASA release, “DRT represents a first step in evaluating approaches for dangerous asteroid deflection,” DART programme manager Andrea Riley stated. Asteroids are a worldwide issue and our kinetic impact deflection demonstration is a great opportunity for us to engage with our Italian and European colleagues to acquire the most precise data possible.

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