DART mission: this is NASA’s plan to deflect an asteroid for the first time in history

A ship sent by NASA is going straight to hit an asteroid and thus divert its current trajectory. This maneuver, never attempted before, will be the first demonstration of how prepared we are to defend the Earth against this type of space threat. This is the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission and it is about to reach its final moment.

Ten months have passed since its launch from California, United States, and now the space agency is preparing for the collision, scheduled for this Monday, September 26, at 7:14 pm local time (6:14 pm in Peru).

The objective chosen for this historical essay is Dimorphos an asteroid 160 meters in diameter that orbits around another larger rock, Didymos, 780 meters. This binary system is considered close because it crosses the Earth’s orbit. However, it does not currently represent a danger to our planet, NASA highlights.

One day before impact, a team of scientists from the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, who lead the mission, will order the spacecraft to begin autonomous navigation to its destination.

In the last leg, the 570-kilogram probe will accelerate to a speed of 6.6 kilometers per second and collide almost head-on with Dimorphos whose mass is estimated at 5 billion kilograms.

The event will be recorded from two angles: DRACO, the camera inside DART, will show in real time the approach to the asteroid until the moment of impact. Meanwhile, a minisatellite called LICIACube, deployed from the ship on September 11, will record the crash 55 kilometers away, as well as the resulting crater.

Upon impact, Dimorphos is expected to change its orbit around Dydimos.

Dimorphos currently completes one orbit around the larger body in 11 hours and 55 minutes. For scientists, the mission will be successful if that period is altered in at least 73 seconds which would be a clear indication of the modification of its trajectory.

The collision has been timed to happen when the binary asteroid system is near its closest point to our planet, at a distance of 11 million kilometers so that telescopes on the ground will be able to verify the eventual diversion of Dimorphos.

With this, the ability to divert the trajectory of a celestial body through this planetary defense technique called kinetic impactor would be confirmed.