NASA is preparing to launch its first planetary defense test, including a spacecraft deliberately crashing into an asteroid to change its trajectory.
The US agency has loaded the spacecraft with fuel, performed some final examinations, and ran rehearsals for the last mission. Named Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the task is set to take off on November 23. It will strive to hit the moonlet asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a giant asteroid called Didymos.
It should be recorded that none of the asteroids profess any threat to Earth. However, NASA will monitor the mission from Earth-based telescopes and gather data to improve modeling and predictive capabilities to prepare for a real asteroid threat.
Dimorphous, the target asteroid, signifies “two forms” in Greek and is approximately 525 feet (160m) in diameter. Scientists said that the crash would not destroy the asteroid but only give it a nudge to deflect its path. But it’s not yet obvious how much deflection the impact will cause. It will mostly depend on the structure of the asteroid or how absorbent it is.
Scientists and engineers have served on DART during the pandemic. They provided the spacecraft with the various technologies that the contingent will test. Another one is the NEXT-C ion propulsion system to improve performance and fuel efficiency for deep-space tasks. “It’s a miracle what this team has achieved, with all of the restrictions in the way like COVID and the evolution of several new technologies,” said Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer in Laurel, Maryland, at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
Commencing November 10, NASA engineers will start “mating” the spacecraft to the adapter that relaxes on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket will run out of the hangar and onto the launchpad at the Vandenberg Space Force Base a day before launch. The first launch event for the DART mission opens up on November 23. If the launch is delayed for some reason, including inclement weather, the team will look at the second opportunity the next day.
DART is listed to launch no more unexpected than 1:20 a.m. EST Wednesday, November 24 (10:20 p.m. PST Tuesday, November 23) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket of Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
The spacecraft is planned to direct itself to influence an asteroid while traveling at a velocity of roughly 24,000 kilometers per hour. Its aim is the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos (Greek for “two forms”), which orbits a giant asteroid called Didymos (Greek for “twin”). In autumn 2022, DART will impact Dimorphos to adjust its orbit within the Didymos binary asteroid system.
The Didymos system is an excellent candidate for DART because it poses no actual impact threat to Earth. Scientists can estimate the change in Dimorphos’ orbit with earth-based telescopes.The Johns Hopkins APL has been conducted to manage the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a scheme of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office.
The agency maintains the mission from several centers, including the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Langley Research Center Hampton, Virginia. In addition, the launch is accomplished by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.