NASA set to launch DART on a mission to crash into an asteroid
NASA is set to launch a spacecraft specifically designed to crash into an asteroid to demonstrate a planetary defense technique.
The mission, called Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, will be the first test of an in-orbit deflection test of kinetic impact technology. Liftoff of the spacecraft is set to occur at 1:20 a.m. EST (06:20 UTC) Nov. 24, 2021, atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
DART is a 1,350-pound (610-kilogram) kinetic impactor spacecraft that is about 6.2 x 5.9 x 8.5 feet (1.9 x 1.8 x 2.6 meters). With its two roll-out solar arrays it stretches about 62 feet (19 meters) across. It has a Sun sensor, star tracker and a camera in order to navigate to its target, a binary asteroid system called 65803 Didymos. Specifically, the vehicle is aiming for the moon of Didymos — Dimorphos.
Didymos is about 2,560 feet (780 meters) wide while Dimorphos is about 525 feet (160 meters) wide and orbits 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) above the larger body roughly every 12 hours. Together the pair orbit the Sun every 770 days at a distance between 1 and 2.3 astronomical units, with one astronomical unit being about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers).
Once launched, NASA plans for DART to impact Dimorphos with a speed of 4 miles (6.6 kilometers) per second in late September 2022, changing the orbital velocity of the moonlet by about 0.4 millimeters per second. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but NASA said this is expected to change the orbital period of the small body by several minutes.
After the test, Earth-based telescopes are expected to measure the change in the orbital velocity of Dimorphos.
NASA wants to test the asteroid deflection capabilities of kinetic impact technology before a real threat is directed at Earth. The agency said Didymos is not a threat to Earth and its orbit does not intersect with the planet at any point.
NASA hopes to use this launch as testing grounds for collecting data after deliberately crashing the DART spacecraft into the asteroid systems effectively adjusting their course should an asteroid collision with Earth become a real concern.
The DART spacecraft arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base on October 2, 2021, near Lompoc, California, after leaving Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Preparations and rehearsals for this launch had to be completed successfully between APL Mission Operation Center in Maryland and spacecraft launch operations in Vandenberg, California prior to launch.
Video courtesy of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.