NASA is aiming to launch its first planetary defence mission later this month, which will see a spacecraft collide with the side of an asteroid at more than 15,000 miles per hour.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will be heading for a small moonlet asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a larger companion asteroid called Didymos.
Neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth but the test will demonstrate if a spacecraft can make contact with an asteroid and impact it.
NASA will then use Earth-based telescopes to measure the effects of the impact on the asteroid system.
The mission is expected to enhance “modeling and predictive capabilities” to help NASA better prepare for an actual asteroid threat.
Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Office said: “DART will be the first demonstration of the ‘kinetic impactor’ technique in which a spacecraft deliberately collides with a known asteroid at high speed to change the asteroid’s motion in space,” said
“This technique is thought to be the most technologically mature approach for mitigating a potentially hazardous asteroid, and it will help planetary defense experts refine asteroid kinetic impactor computer models, giving insight into how we could deflect potentially dangerous near-Earth objects in the future.”
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Engineers have outfitted the spacecraft with the various new technologies that the mission will test, including NASA’s NEXT-C ion propulsion system that was designed to improve performance and fuel efficiency for deep-space missions.
DART was also taken to Elon Musk’s SpaceX Payload Processing Facility on arrived at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) on October 26.
On November 10, engineers will “mate” the spacecraft to the adapter that stacks on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
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The rocket will roll out of the hangar a day before launch and head onto the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E).
DART’s first launch opportunity is scheduled for November 23.
If necessary, there will also be subsequent launch attempts taking place through February 2022.
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