NASA is ready to launch a spacecraft with a straightforward mission: smash with an asteroid at 15,000 mph.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, will launch early Wednesday to see if crashing a spacecraft with an asteroid will shift it into a new track. If the test is successful, the results will be useful if NASA and other space organisations ever need to divert an asteroid to preserve Earth and escape a devastating collision.
The DART spacecraft is planned to launch from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Wednesday at 1:20 a.m. Eastern time atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA intends to webcast the launch live on its YouTube account beginning at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. If inclement weather near the Vandenberg launch site causes a delay, the next chance for liftoff will be approximately 24 hours later.
For the first time, NASA is crashing DART into an asteroid to test a form of planetary defence that could one day spare a city, or even the entire world, from a devastating asteroid impact.
“DART” “is a re-enactment of Bruce Willis’ film ‘Armageddon,’ however it is entirely imaginary.
DART will be a confirmed weapon in NASA’s planetary defence arsenal if everything goes according to plan. Should another asteroid come close to colliding with Earth, the world’s space agencies would be confident that an asteroid missile like DART would be able to deflect the space rock.
The spacecraft will make nearly one complete circle around the sun after launch before colliding with Dimorphos, a football-field-sized asteroid that orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes.
The two asteroids are known as a binary system because one is a small moon to the other. Every two years, the two asteroids complete one full orbit around the sun.
The expedition is merely target practise for Dimorphos, who poses no threat to Earth. DART will collide with Earth in late September or early October of next year, when the binary asteroids will be 6.8 million miles away from Earth.
The DART spacecraft, formally known as a kinetic impactor, will direct itself right at Dimorphos four hours before impact, for a 15,000 mph head-on crash.
Until 20 seconds before impact, an onboard camera will take and broadcast photographs to Earth in real time. A tiny Italian Space Agency spacecraft, launched 10 days before the hit, will fly as near as 34 miles from the asteroid, taking photographs every six seconds in the moments leading up to and following DART’s impact.