NASA and SpaceX launch a new test mission “DART” to defend Earth
Washington [US], Nov. 24 (ANI): The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a new mission launched by NASA on Wednesday to test technology to defend Earth against potential asteroid or comet threats.
The DART mission was launched at 1.21 a.m. ET Wednesday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Only one part of NASA’s larger planetary defense strategy, DART — built and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland — will impact a known asteroid that is not a threat to Earth. Its goal is to slightly alter the movement of the asteroid in a way that can be accurately measured using ground-based telescopes.
DART will show that the spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and deliberately collide with it – a deflection method called kinetic impact. The test will provide critical data to help better prepare for an asteroid that could pose a threat to Earth, should it ever be discovered. The LICIACube, a CubeSat installed with DART and provided by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), will be launched prior to the DART impact to capture images of the impact and the cloud created by the ejected material. Nearly four years after the impact of DART, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Hera project will conduct detailed surveys of both asteroids, with a particular focus on the crater left by the DART collision and an accurate determination of the mass of Demorphos.
Speaking of the same, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “DART turns science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactiveness and innovation for the benefit of all. In addition to all the ways that NASA studies our world and our planet, we are also working to protect this home, and this test will help in proving one viable way to protect our planet from a dangerous asteroid should it ever be detected heading toward Earth.” At 2:17 a.m., DART separated from the rocket’s second stage. Minutes later, mission operators received the spacecraft’s first telemetry data and began the process of directing the spacecraft to a safe location to deploy its solar arrays.
After about two hours, the spacecraft completed successfully opening its two 28-foot solar arrays. They will power both the spacecraft and NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – a commercial ion drive, one of several technologies being tested on DART for future application in space missions.
“At its core, DART is a preparedness mission, and it’s also a unit mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“This includes the international collaboration DART, ASI’s LICIACube, and ESA’s Hera research teams, which will pursue this pioneering space mission,” Thomas added.
DART’s one-way trip is to the Didymos asteroid system, which consists of a pair of asteroids. DART’s target is the small moon, Dimorphos, which is about 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter. The small moon orbits Didymus, which has a diameter of about 2,560 feet (780 meters).
Since Dimorphos orbit Didymos at a much slower relative speed than the pair orbits the Sun, the result of the kinetic effect of DART within the binary system can be measured much more easily than the change in the orbit of a single asteroid around the Sun.
“We haven’t found any significant asteroid impact threat yet, but we continue to search for that large population density that we know hasn’t been found yet. Our goal is to find any potential impact, years to decades in advance, so it could be possible,” Lindley Johnson said. , Planetary Defense Officer at NASA Headquarters, Aberration with capabilities like DART is possible with the technology we currently have.
“DART is one aspect of NASA’s work to prepare Earth in the event we encounter an asteroid threat. In conjunction with this test, we are preparing the Near-Earth Object Survey mission, an infrared space telescope due to launch later this decade and designed to accelerate our ability to detect and characterization of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets located within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.”
The spacecraft will intercept the Didymos system between September 26 and October 1, 2022, deliberately striking at Demorphos at 4 miles per second (6 kilometers per second). Scientists estimate that the kinetic effect would shorten Demorphos’ orbit around Didymus by several minutes. Researchers will precisely measure this change using telescopes on Earth. Their results will validate and improve scientific computer models to predict the effectiveness of kinetic impact as a reliable method for asteroid deflection.
Said Andy Ching, a DART investigator at Johns Hopkins APL and the person who came up with the idea for DART.
“This is just the end of Chapter One, and the DART investigation and engineering teams have a lot of work to do over the next year to prepare for the main event – the kinetic impact of DART on Dimorphos. But we’re celebrating tonight,” Cheng said.
DART’s single instrument, the Didymos Reconnaissance Camera and Asteroid Navigation Optical Camera (DRACO) will be operational a week from now and will provide the first images from the spacecraft. DART will continue to travel beyond Earth’s orbit around the Sun for the next 10 months until Didymus and Demorphos come relatively close to 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth.
An advanced guidance, navigation and control system working in conjunction with algorithms called SMART Nav, will enable the DART spacecraft to identify and distinguish between two asteroids. The system will then steer the spacecraft toward Dimorphos. All of this process will happen within about an hour of impact.
Johns Hopkins APL manages the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office. NASA provides support for the mission from several centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Johnson Space Center in Houston, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX is the launch services provider for the DART mission. (Ani)