The spaceship Dart from NASA, It will be the first mission in the world to hit an asteroid in space and thus test active planetary defense techniques.
Scientists have been planning this mission for eight years and that It has its launch on November 24 at 6.21 GMT (3.21 Argentine time). It is expected that DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) take off from Vandenberg Base (California), by means of a Falcon 9 rocket from Space X. with the aim of demonstrating a method for the deflection of asteroids, called kinetic impact.
If everything goes as NASA plans, In October 2022, DART will impact the small asteroid moon Dimorphos, which orbits a larger companion, Didymos, in a binary asteroid system to change its orbital period. Both are located about 11 million kilometers from Earth. As both asteroids are relatively small, ground-based optical telescopes see them as a single point of light that fluctuates in brightness. The range of these fluctuations will change after the DART impact.
The privileged witness of the space operation will be the LICIACube (Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroid, a small Italian Space Agency satellite that will be deployed from the DART spacecraft itself previously and that it will take images of the effects of the impact on the surface and the ejection plume generated after the impact.
Although none of the asteroids pose a threat to Earth, the collision with Dimorphos will allow researchers to demonstrate the deflection technique along with several new technologies and collect important data to improve our asteroid deflection modeling and prediction capabilities. “These improvements will help us better prepare ourselves in the event that an asteroid is discovered as a threat to Earth,” NASA said in a statement.
“The DART spacecraft will crash into the moon almost head on at approximately 6.6 kilometers per second, a speed that is faster than a bullet and fast enough to change the speed of the moon by a fraction of 1%, “explained NASA. Although it seems like a small change, this impact will change the moon’s orbital period by several minutes. “This is an exciting time that we are living and I think DART will do a great demonstration”Explained Ed Lu, a retired NASA astronaut and founder of the B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization that works on asteroid detection and deflection.
“The Didymos system is too small and too far away and it is observed as a point of light. But we can get the data we need by measuring the brightness of that point of light, which changes when Didymos rotates and Dimorphos it orbits, ”said Andy Rivkin, one of the scientists on the DART team. According to the researcher, changes in brightness indicate when the little moon Dimorphos passes in front of or is hidden behind Didymos. These observations will help scientists determine the exact position of both asteroids and the impact time to maximize the drift effect after the collision.
Safe for a century
The software engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Luis Rodríguez, who is in charge of DART’s front cameras, said today that no asteroid is known to hit us in a century. However, he considered it important to “be prepared” given the low probability that this will happen beyond the next 100 years.
This mission, according to Rodríguez, is fundamental to NASA’s planetary defense strategy, which studies, analyzes and measures all near-Earth asteroids and their trajectories to understand and reduce the danger of a possible impact. For the impact to be effective, DART will travel at about 6 kilometers per second, an “incredibly fast” speed and necessary for the collision to alter Dimorphos’s trajectory “a little”. the size of the George Washington Monument – a 47.2-meter-high obelisk located in the US capital – but with greater volume, Rodríguez said.
At that speed, a trip between Los Angeles and New York, on the two coasts of the United States, would take 10 seconds. The data from the mission, according to NASA, will be combined with those from the Hera mission, from the European Space Agency and scheduled between 2024 and 2026 to analyze in more detail the asteroids and the crater that DART will leave in Dimorphos.
What is NASA’s kamikaze ship like?
Dart is a 500 kg cube-shaped ship, 1.14 meters wide, 1.24 meters high and 1.32 meters deep. It has 2 solar panels that reach a width of 12.5 meters when deployed.
Once launched, it will deploy the Roll Out Solar Arrays (ROSA) to provide the solar power required for DART’s electric propulsion system. The spacecraft will demonstrate NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster Commercial Electric Solar Powertrain (NEXT-C) system as part of its propulsion in space. NEXT-C is a next-generation system based on the Dawn spacecraft propulsion system and was developed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. By utilizing electric propulsion, DART could benefit from significant flexibility in the mission timeline while demonstrating the next generation of ion engine technology, with applications for possible future NASA missions.
The spacecraft has a single scientific instrument called DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance & Asteroid Camera for OpNav), a dual-purpose telescope for observing the asteroid in high resolution and for autonomous navigation. It was built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).
After its launch, DART will navigate space for about a year and then crash into the asteroid at a speed of approximately 15,000 miles per hour. But before, The spacecraft will launch a shoebox-sized camera made by the Italian Space Agency that will look to watch the spacecraft crash by taking photos of the debris shower and maybe even the resulting crater..
DART’s total budget is $ 313.9 million spread over 8 years, including spacecraft development, launch vehicle and operations until the end of the mission in late 2022.