NASA purposely crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid

The mission is NASA's demonstration of kinetic impactor technology.


NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, aka DART, is all set to launch on November 24. With this DART mission, scientists are all set to witness never before seen event in space: crashing a spacecraft in an asteroid.

The spacecraft will autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and kinetically impact it at almost 4 miles per second (6 kilometers per second). The DART mission will be the first to test technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from impacting Earth.

DART’s target asteroid is not a threat to Earth. But this asteroid system is a perfect testing ground to see if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course.

DART's impact
Illustration of how DART’s impact will alter the orbit of Dimorphos (formerly called “Didymos B”) about Didymos. Telescopes on Earth will be able to measure the change in the orbit of Dimorphos to evaluate the effectiveness of the DART impact. Credit: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory LLC/NASA

The spacecraft is expected to encounter the asteroid in late September 2022. The spacecraft will impact the orbiting moonlet, named Dimorphos, to change its orbital period around Didymos. That change will be measured using telescopes on Earth.

One of the technologies in DART includes the kinetic impactor technique. The technique will change the motion of an asteroid in space. The LICIACube, a CubeSat attached to DART, will deploy and take photos while DART impacts Dimorphous.

DART uses the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) to navigate and determine the properties of the kinetic impact site.

DART is scheduled to launch no earlier than 1:20 a.m. EST Wednesday, November 24 (10:20 p.m. PST Tuesday, November 23) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA’s Launch Services Program, America’s multi-user spaceport, is managing the launch.

Julie Schneider, NASA launch site integration manager, said, “Not only is the DART mission a planetary defense demonstration, but so much of the spacecraft itself is a new technology demonstration, and being a part of a mission of firsts is stimulating.”

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