The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft will demonstrate a method to defend Earth from hazards in space
An artist’s rendering depicts the DART mission to target the smaller of the two objects, left, that make up the binary asteroid Didymos, which will be about 7 million miles from Earth at the time of impact, scheduled for October 2022. (NASA / Johns Hopkins APL photo)
The space agency announced recently that it had chosen the Space Exploration Technologies rocket to carry the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which is led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
“We’re excited that NASA has selected the vehicle to launch DART on its important planetary defense mission,” said Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer at APL. “The DART team is eager to move ahead with our spacecraft and mission designs and demonstrate, for the first time in space, a method to keep potentially hazardous bodies from reaching Earth.”
The spacecraft will demonstrate the capability to deflect an asteroid by colliding a spacecraft with it at high speed, a technique known as a kinetic impactor.
By slamming the spacecraft into an asteroid at a high speed, scientists hope to push the space rock off course.
DART, which will feature solar electric propulsion, has a date to intercept the asteroid Didymos’ small moon in October 2022.
At that point, the asteroid — or what NASA called a moonlet — will be within 11 million kilometers, or 7 million miles, of Earth.
To achieve the collision, DART will employ an onboard camera and sophisticated autonomous navigation software, according to NASA.
Scientists expect that the collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of 1 percent, enough to be measured using telescopes on Earth.
The total cost for NASA to launch DART is about $69 million, which includes the launch service and other mission-related costs, space agency representatives said.
DART is scheduled to launch in June 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4 on the South Base.
While the NASA asteroid mission won’t occur for two years, another Falcon 9 rocket is set for May from Vandenberg to launch a Canadian Earth-observation mission with three small but identical satellites.
The Radarsat Constellation Mission will continue previous satellites’ efforts to conduct maritime surveillance with ice, surface wind, oil pollution and ship monitoring, disaster management and ecosystem monitoring of agriculure, wetlands forests and coastal changes.
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