NASA is about to crash a $ 330 million spacecraft into an asteroid

AmericaFor the first time, NASA will launch a spacecraft to crash into a small asteroid and change its orbit to test planetary defense tactics.

Simulation of the DART spacecraft and cubesat satellite in the Didymos asteroid system.  Photo: NASA

Simulation of the DART spacecraft and cubesat satellite in the Didymos asteroid system. Photo: NASA

The mission, called the Dual Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), marks NASA’s first attempt at active defense tactics. This strategy focuses on finding large asteroids likely to collide with Earth, assessing the risk and preventing disaster if necessary. DART will test a technique in the final step of hitting the asteroid’s smaller moon. Researchers will be watching closely to see how much the moon’s orbital time shortens.

“A slight impact on the asteroid will contribute to a large change in its position in the future, when the asteroid and Earth will no longer be at risk of collision,” said Nancy Chabot, scientist planet and lead DART mission coordinator at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.

Planetary defense consists of two phases. The first stage is to find the asteroid, closely monitor it to model its flight path and compare it to the future Earth’s orbit. To date, researchers have identified more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids, nearly 10,000 of which are larger than 140 m in diameter, a size that can cause serious damage on a large scale.

Planetary defense experts have yet to find any large asteroids on their way to hitting Earth. If so, phase two of planetary defense will be activated. The DART mission is designed to test a technique known as a “kinetic impactor,” which allows an object of sufficient mass to crash into an asteroid at a speed fast enough to send it off course.

The $330 million DART mission will launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Base in California at 12:20 a.m. on November 23, Hanoi time. In the fall of next year, DART will fly to the near-Earth asteroid system including the asteroid Didymos 780 m in diameter and the smaller moon. The moon, called Dimorphos, is only 160 meters wide. This is the goal of the DART spacecraft. The ship will crash head-on with Dimorphos.

According to calculations by scientists, the impact will reduce the orbiting time of the moon (12 hours) by at least 73 seconds and at most by more than 10 minutes. A cubesat satellite flying with DART will monitor the collision. Ground-based telescopes were also involved in observing the event and its impact on orbit around Didymos. A few years later, the European Space Agency will launch a probe to evaluate the results of the collision from a close distance. NASA hopes DART will provide scientists with the first data on the effectiveness of kinetic impactor techniques.

An Khang (Follow Space)

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