Dart Mission: Why is NASA crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid?


NASA has set up its $330m . preparing to launch Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) probe, testing the space agency’s ability to alter the asteroid’s trajectory with kinetic force.

The plan is to crash a robotic spacecraft into moonlit dimorphos at 15,000 miles per hour and divert its path only a fraction of the time. If the mission is successful, it would mean that NASA And other space agencies could deflect an Earth-bound asteroid and avert an Armageddon-style impact.

What is happening?

The Dart spacecraft is set to lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from a launchpad in California at 1.20 a.m. Eastern Time. If liftoff is postponed, NASA has an 84-day launch window in which to try again.

It would take 10 months to travel 6.8m miles to Dimorphos and the collision would not occur until September-October 2022.

Dimorphos is a football field-sized asteroid that orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos. Neither pose a threat to the earth. NASA is only doing some target exercises with the Didymos system because its relative proximity to Earth makes it ideal for observing the consequences of the impact.

Before the accident, an Italian-built satellite called LICIACube would intelligently exit DART and pass itself on to send pictures and data back to Earth.

Will this work?

Images from LICIACube and telescope observations from Earth may provide some clues as to whether Dimorphos’ orbit has been altered. The goal is only to move it a fraction of a percentage point.

Observations from ground-based telescopes and radar will then measure how much the Moon’s orbit around Didymos changes.

Why can’t they fly it?

Disappointingly – or perhaps reassuringly – NASA won’t be there anytime soon Dropping Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck on the surface of an asteroid (spoilers if you’re joining us since 1997) Drill a hole, drop a nuclear bomb and then try to get away quickly.

If an asteroid does indeed endanger Earth, it would be a good idea to quickly detect it and shut it down, as it may be farther away from Earth before its trajectory can be altered. Will, hopefully it will end.

The key to escaping a killer asteroid is to detect it well in advance and be prepared with the means to change its course, NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said at a media briefing this month. “We don’t want to be in a situation where an asteroid is headed toward Earth and then have to test that kind of capability,” he said.

There are lots of other considerations including piloting a spacecraft and using lasers, ion engine jets or other types of beam devices that have a slight but significant over-time effect. Or a robotic lander could eject material from the surface (the mass-conductor effect) and then eject, using Newton’s third law of action and reaction to change course. The solar sail can be hoisted nearby to reflect enough sunlight to impact the object.