NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test: Is it possible to Deflect an Asteroid by Crashing Into It
The double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) by NASA is a one-hit-wonder spacecraft. On September 26, it will extinguish itself by slamming 24,000 kph into an asteroid. DART, a spacecraft roughly the size of a bus that will be launched from Earth in November 2021, was developed to test and validate our capacity to protect Earth from a potentially harmful asteroid.
It’s difficult to hit a target directly from 11 million kilometres away. Although this sounds far, NASA chose the asteroid because it is quite close to Earth. As the spacecraft crashes on its own, engineers will have the chance to test the spacecraft’s autonomy in the moments before impact. The target asteroid, Dimorphos, has a diameter of 163 metres and orbits Didymos, an object with a diameter of 780 metres. Dimorphous is in orbit around Didymos, making it simpler to gauge the impact’s effects due to the resulting change in its orbit, so this “binary asteroid system” was selected. The Dimorphos system does not currently endanger the Earth, though.
In any case, NASA is trying to divert an asteroid with nothing less than a full-scale planetary defence experiment. The process being used is known as “kinetic impact,” and it modifies the asteroid’s orbit by colliding with it. In any case, NASA is trying to divert an asteroid with nothing less than a full-scale planetary defence experiment. The process being used is known as “kinetic impact,” and it modifies the asteroid’s orbit by colliding with it. That is essentially a safety shot in snooker played between the spacecraft (the cue ball) and the asteroid on a planetary scale.
It may only take a small deflection to demonstrate the effectiveness of this method in altering an asteroid’s collision course with Earth. But because of the collision, which will have an impact akin to three tonnes of TNT, the DART spacecraft will be destroyed.
Katherine Calvin, chief scientist and senior climate advisor at NASA, Calvin said, “We’re looking at asteroids to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in their path. We also study asteroids to learn more about the formation and history of our solar system. Every time we see an asteroid, we’re catching a glimpse of a fossil of the early solar system.”
She further added, “These remnants capture a time when planets like Earth were forming. Asteroids and other small bodies also delivered water, other ingredients of life to Earth as it was maturing. We’re studying these to learn more about the history of our solar system.”
DART, according to NASA’s planetary defence officer Lindley Johnson, represents a turning point in the evolution of the human race.
Johnson said during the briefing on Thursday, “This is an exciting time, not only for the agency but for space history and the history of humankind. It’s quite frankly the first time that we are able to demonstrate that we have not only the knowledge of the hazards posed by these asteroids and comets that are left over from the formation of the solar system, but also have the technology that we could deflect one from a course inbound to impact the Earth. So this demonstration is extremely important to our future.”
That question will undoubtedly be helped by the results of the DART mission on Monday (Sept. 26), and many of the DART team members expressed their confidence in the mission during the briefing. When the time comes, the spacecraft is prepared to slam into itself on the surface of Dimorphos, according to Edward Reynolds, DART project manager at JHUAPL.
The DART team’s engineers are closely monitoring the spacecraft’s trajectory in the days leading up to the impact, which is scheduled to take place on Monday at 7:14 p.m. EDT (2314 GMT) (Sept. 26). The DART mission systems team is still ensuring that the impactor spacecraft is on the course, according to Elena Adams, a DART mission systems engineer at JHUAPL.