NASA Set to Crash Into an Asteroid

NASA
Courtesy of Jeff Keyzer (Flickr CC0)

Later this month, NASA will test a planetary-defense strategy that might one day defend Earth using a spacecraft. On September 26, the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) spacecraft will strike an asteroid not far from Earth like a battering ram. The goal of the mission is to shield the planet from potential asteroid collisions.

Although there is no danger to Earth from the asteroid, this is the first test of the kinetic impact technique, which involves deploying a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid for planetary defense, according to NASA. DART was launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Californian Vandenberg Air Force Base in November 2021. However, 10 months later, DART will complete three trajectory correction operations over the following three weeks in order to catch up with the asteroid. Each move, according to scientists, will lessen the margin of error for the spacecraft’s necessary trajectory to strike the Dimorphos asteroid.

According to NASA, the navigation team will be able to pinpoint Dimorphos’ location within two kilometers following the final maneuver on September 25, which will take place around 24 hours before impact. DART will then be left on its own to autonomously direct itself toward a collision with the extraordinary space rock.

The double-asteroid system Didymos, which contains DART’s target, Dimorphos, was just observed by DART for the first time.

The Didymos system appeared to be fairly faint in a photograph taken from a distance of 20 million kilometers. However, by combining a number of photos, astronomers were able to precisely locate Dimorphos.

Julie Bellerose, the DART navigation lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that after seeing the DRACO photos of Didymos for the first time, “we can iron out the optimal settings for DRACO and fine-tune the software.” “We’ll fine-tune DART’s target by determining Didymos’ location with more specificity in September.”

DART will put the kinetic impactor Earth defense theory to the test if it strikes Dimorphos at its intended 15,000 mph speed.

Planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory explained that the purpose of a kinetic impactor is to smash a spaceship into the asteroid one is concerned about, which will shift its orbit around the Sun.

NASA
Courtesy of Blake Patterson (Flickr CC0)

Didymos’ orbit won’t change as a result of DART. It seeks to alter the moonlet Dimorphos’ speed. In the end, scientists will be able to assess if their plan was successful using ground-based telescopes and data from the spacecraft.

About 20 miles per second is the speed at which asteroids orbit the sun. Engineers would only want to shift the orbit of the object by a very little amount, perhaps an inch or two each second, according to Rivkin.

Because of this, Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos form the ideal target for practice. It is considerably simpler to measure the tiny asteroid’s movement of approximately a foot per second as it orbits Didymos than its speed of 20 miles per second.

The plan is to use the same method on larger asteroids if this is successful. The only way for scientists to replicate such an impact before this trip was in a lab. They will receive data from DART to bolster this defense strategy.

As a project of the Planetary Missions Program Office of NASA, Johns Hopkins APL oversees the DART program on behalf of the agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. DART, the first planetary defense test mission ever, deliberately impacts Dimorphos in order to gently alter its path through space.

Information to the public, the media, and the government on potentially hazardous objects (PHO) close approaches to Earth and any potential for collision. The PDCO will supply messages for NASA to convey to the Executive Office of the President, the U.S. Congress, and other government departments and agencies if it is determined that any PHO has a considerable risk of striking Earth (more than 1 percent over the next 50 years).

Written By Dylan Santoyo
Edited by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

NEW YORK POST: NASA spacecraft set to intentionally crash into an asteroid to help save Earth

NASA: DART Sets Sights on Asteroid Target

NASA: Planetary Defense

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Jeff Keyzer’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of Blake Patterson’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

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