NASA plans to launch a spacecraft on November 23 that aims to hit a near-Earth asteroid to divert its trajectory. This is the first mission in history focused on planetary defense, which will show us how prepared human technology is to avoid a potentially catastrophic event.
The asteroid in question is Dimorphos 160 meters in diameter, it orbits like a moon around another larger asteroid called Dydimos. This binary system is now located more than 480 million kilometers away. However, when the spacecraft reaches its rendezvous, it is anticipated that the space rocks will be 11 million kilometers from Earth.
Despite this obvious approach to our planet, NASA specifies that these asteroids are not moving in the direction of the Earth and, therefore, are not considered a threat. As such, they are an ideal target for this mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).
DART is the first space mission led by the NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
As the name implies, DART will test the human ability to deflect the trajectory of an asteroid in the event that it heads toward Earth and could cause destruction.
The car-sized spacecraft has an autonomous navigation program to guide you to your goal. This meeting will take place at the end of September 2022.
At a speed of approximately 6.6 kilometers per second the DART spacecraft will hit Dimorphos to change its orbit around Dydimos.
“The collision will alter the speed of the small moon in its orbit around the main body by less than one percent, but this will change the orbital period in several minutes (the time it takes to complete a turn), enough to be observed and measured with telescopes on Earth ”, details NASA.
Likewise, a small probe (LICIACube) with a camera will detach from the spacecraft before impact to record the entire event.
If the mission is successful, it will validate the use of this technology for planetary defense with larger ships capable of deflecting the orbit of asteroids around the Sun and, therefore, their dangerous trajectory.
Now, the spacecraft is on the premises of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company responsible for making the rocket that will propel DART off Earth.
In a recent statement, NASA reported that the spacecraft has already passed the review tests and has a full fuel tank. Meanwhile, for November 10 it is planned to attach it to the top of the rocket SpaceX Falcon 9.
In the event that weather or other factors prevent the launch on the night of November 23, there will be a second chance the following day.
“If necessary, subsequent launch attempts can take place until February 2022,” the US space agency said.