NASA to crash spacecraft into asteroid to check planetary protection: What to know


NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Take a look at (DART) mission, the world’s first planetary protection take a look at mission, is scheduled to launch early Wednesday morning. 

The company mentioned the mission will assist decide if deliberately crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an efficient technique to change the asteroid’s course.


DART, which is concentrating on an asteroid that’s not a risk to Earth, is set to launch no sooner than 1:20 a.m. EST on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Area Pressure Base in California.

The spacecraft – touring at a velocity of roughly 6.6 kilometers per second – is headed for the small moonlet asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a bigger companion asteroid known as Didymos.

Illustration of NASA's DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system.

Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Area Company’s (ASI) LICIACube previous to affect on the Didymos binary system.
(Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins, APL/Steve Gribben)

The intentional crash will barely change the asteroid’s orbit inside the Didymos binary asteroid system in late September 2022, when the Didymos system is inside 11 million kilometers of Earth.

“The Didymos system is the perfect candidate for DART as a result of it poses no precise affect risk to Earth, and scientists can measure the change in Dimorphos’ orbit with ground-based telescopes,” NASA mentioned in a media advisory. 

Though no identified asteroid bigger than 140 meters in measurement has a major likelihood to hit Earth for the subsequent 100 years, solely about 40% of these asteroids have been discovered as of October 2021.

“DART would be the first demonstration of the ‘kinetic impactor’ method by which a spacecraft intentionally collides with a identified asteroid at excessive velocity to vary the asteroid’s movement in area,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer, said in a statement. “This method is regarded as probably the most technologically mature strategy for mitigating a doubtlessly hazardous asteroid, and it’ll assist planetary protection consultants refine asteroid kinetic impactor pc fashions, giving perception into how we might deflect doubtlessly harmful near-Earth objects sooner or later.”


In response to the company, the kinetic affect will show {that a} spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a goal asteroid and kinetically affect it. The scientists will use Earth-based telescopes to measure the results of the affect on the asteroid system, resulting in enhanced modeling and predictive capabilities. 

The DART spacecraft is aided by an onboard digicam named DRACO and autonomous navigation software program.

Engineers additionally outfitted the spacecraft with NASA’s NEXT-C ion propulsion system, designed to reinforce efficiency and gasoline effectivity for deep-space missions, and a flat, slotted high-gain antenna for environment friendly communication between Earth and the spacecraft. 

Its two Roll Out Photo voltaic Arrays (ROSA) will present the solar energy wanted for the electrical propulsion system when launched and the Italian Space Agency’s miniature satellite LICIACube is designed to seize photographs of DART’s kinetic affect and its rapid aftereffects.

The DART mission is led by the Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Laboratory (APL) and managed beneath NASA’S Photo voltaic System Exploration Program and the Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division.


If climate or different points forestall a launch on the primary evening, the group can have one other alternative on the subsequent day, and subsequent launch makes an attempt can happen by means of February 2022. 

“I’m each amazed and grateful that DART has gone from a twinkle within the eye to a spacecraft in closing preparation for launch inside 11 years,” mentioned Andy Cheng, DART investigation group lead at APL and the person who got here up with the concept of DART. “What made it doable was an awesome group that overcame all of the challenges of constructing a spacecraft to do one thing by no means performed earlier than.”

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