NASA DART asteroid mission: Spacecraft is ready for impact

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test is getting ready to crash into the asteroid Dimorphous in an try to alter its orbit


20 September 2022

DART spacecraft

An artist’s impression of the DART spacecraft


NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft will smash into an asteroid subsequent week, within the first ever real-world planetary defence mission.

The 500-kilogram DART craft launched final yr on 24 November and is because of attain its vacation spot, the 780-metre-wide asteroid Didymos, on 26 September. Once it arrives, it should purposefully crash into Didymos’s moon, the 160-metre-wide asteroid Dimorphous, in an try and divert the smaller rock’s orbit round its mum or dad asteroid.

Neither Didymos nor Dimorphous presents any risk to Earth, being 11 million kilometres away, however mission scientist Andy Rivkin at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and his workforce hope the asteroid system can act as a test-bed for coping with doubtlessly lethal house rocks.

“This is an experiment at the kinds of scales that we want to use, or that we might use, if we ever need to deflect an asteroid for real,” mentioned Rivkin throughout a press convention on the Europlanet Science Congress in Granada, Spain, on 19 September.

The researchers will deem the mission successful if DART’s influence, which might be at round 6.6 kilometres per second, modifications the size of Dimorphous’s orbit by at the very least 73 seconds, give or take 10 per cent – however they assume that the true diversion might be nearer to round 10 minutes.

Although DART has a digital camera onboard, the spacecraft might be destroyed on influence, so gained’t be capable of see the result. Instead, the workforce will depend on LICIACube – a sister spacecraft from the Italian Space Agency that separated from DART on 11 September – to take detailed observations.

At a distance of 55 kilometres from the influence crater, LICIACube will use two cameras to seize pictures and file knowledge of the strike, in addition to measure its kinetic influence on Dimorphous and any ensuing plume from the crash website. “There will be an impact that will change the trajectory, there will be a crater formed and after there will be ejecta that will propagate through space and LICIACube will photograph this,” mentioned Stavro Ivanovski on the Astronomical Observatory of Trieste in Italy throughout the press convention.

There can even be assist from a number of ground-based telescopes and house observatories, together with Hubble and James Webb, which is able to take measurements of Didymos’s interval and examine it with previous observations. “When Dimorphous moves in front of Didymos, we can see a brightness drop due to the shadow,” mentioned Rivkin. “By measuring this brightness go up and down, we’ll be able to measure the period that it takes for Dimorphous to go around Didymos.”

While observations of the influence itself might be transmitted to Earth shortly after it occurs, its impact on Dimorphous’s orbit will take weeks and even months to measure to a excessive precision and thus reveal whether or not the mission was successful, mentioned Rivkin. Alongside LICIACube’s measurements, the European Space Agency is planning to launch a spacecraft known as Hera in 2024 to file the influence’s aftermath in additional element.

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