How is DART, the NASA mission that will try to deflect near-Earth asteroid?

The POT This Tuesday, November 23, it will activate its first planetary defense mission called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection) when a spacecraft is launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, company of billionaire Elon Musk, to collide with an asteroid and study, as a consequence, the variation of its orbit.

The ‘guinea pig’ of this technology will be Dimorphos the Moon of a binary asteroid system discovered two decades ago, whose largest companion is known as Didymos. With a diameter of 160 meters, the dimensions of the target astronomical body resemble the three pyramids of Giza collectively.

CubeSat, a complementary satellite of the Italian Space Agency, will travel in DART and before impact it will detach and record the events. Tom Statler, a program scientist at NASA headquarters, said that astronomers will be able to check the results of the asteroid deflection experiment with their telescopes.

The DART mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will launch this Tuesday, November 23, between 10.20 pm and 11.00 pm (Pacific time) on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, a reusable vehicle that also serves to transport cargo to the International Space Station, from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Vandenberg is located in Santa Barbara County, California. In that US military installation, with a cosmodrome in its domain, ICBM tests are being carried out.

Dart is NASA’s pioneering mission to establish a planetary defense system or protocol in the event that an asteroid is detected that is going to pass close to Earth orbit or is in the direction of collision.

According to the astronomer Andy Rivkin, one of those involved in DART, what you want to achieve is “change the speed of the object by perhaps one centimeter per second.” “That’s a lot,” he declared, as it is estimated to be a sufficient blow to change his course.

The DART spacecraft will travel towards Dimorphos at a speed of 6.6 km per second. A camera inside will see the astronomical object and choose the point of impact. Its 8.5 meter long solar panels will power it.

Although NASA has already clarified that at least in the next 100 years we will not have this danger, starting this technological period of prevention will give confidence to the next generations of scientists. Fortunately, the most dangerous asteroid to date, the binary Apollo 2009FD, only achieves a 0.2% chance of hitting our planet only in 2185.

Dimorphos, which orbits a larger companion asteroid due to gravitational pull called Didymos, is the main impact target of the DART mission. POT with the logistical support of Spacex. Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer, stressed that by means of this technique they seek to reconfirm a mature technology to “mitigate a potentially dangerous asteroid” and “refine computer models.”

The astronomical body is 160 meters in diameter, while Didymos reaches 780. To get another idea of ​​the size of Dimorphos, if we placed it next to the Eiffel Tower, it would reach half.

This binary system is currently located more than 480 million kilometers away from Earth.

When the DART spacecraft reaches their rendezvous in late September 2022, both space rocks are estimated to be 11 million kilometers from Earth. This will be its closest point to our planet until the year 2062.

It is known from telescopes on Earth that Dimorphos it orbits Didymos in 11 hours and 55 minutes. Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who collaborates with the US space agency, said that period will likely be changed to 11 hours and 45 minutes.