Science

NASA’s DART mission will crash craft to redirect asteroid, scientists say

NASA hopes a mission that is expected to launch next month will demonstrate a technique that could prevent an asteroid from striking Earth.

The mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is led for NASA by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

“DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space,” the space agency said.

DART will hitch a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to a near-Earth asteroid system called (65803) Didymos.

It comprises a 780-meter-wide body orbited by a 160-meter-wide moonlet, “which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth,” NASA said.

Radar images of the near-Earth asteroid Didymos and its moonlet from 2003.NASA

Aided by cameras and autonomous navigation systems, DART will crash into the moonlet at 6.6 kilometers per second, NASA said.

“The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes — enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth,” NASA said.

The launch is scheduled for 10:20 p.m. PT Nov. 23 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The spacecraft will separate from the rocket and cruise for about a year before it is expected to intercept (65803) Didymos in September 2022.

DART will also use solar panels to charge electric ion thrusters, demonstrating another emerging space propulsion technology, NASA said.

“By utilizing electric propulsion, DART could benefit from significant flexibility to the mission timeline while demonstrating the next generation of ion engine technology, with applications to potential future NASA missions,” NASA said.

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