Images from the DART asteroid-smashing mission are expected to be ‘amazing’

NASA is two weeks away from the intentional collision of a spacecraft into an asteroid, and scientists believe the visual images sent from the collision are worth the wait.

On September 26, the Double Asteroid Redirect Test spacecraft, known as DART, will be used as a malicious piston to crash into an asteroid not far from Earth.

DART recently got its first look at Didymos, the double asteroid system whose target includes Dimorphos.

An image taken from 20 million miles away showed that Didymus’ system was completely faint. However, by simply combining a series of images taken by Didymos Reconnaissance and the Asteroid Navigation Optical Camera (DRACO), astronomers can determine the exact location of Demorphos.

The DART camera continues to send pictures of Didymos as it feeds the images to the spacecraft’s algorithm to guide the spacecraft as it approaches the young moon. It uses a navigation system called Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real-Time Navigation or SMART Nav to orient itself.

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“We’re coming in at four miles per second, so we can’t just sit there with our controller and our joystick and kind of point it inward,” planetary astronomer at the Johns Hopkins Laboratory of Applied Physics Andy Rifkin said of the navigation system. “The camera will take pictures. It will send it to the computer. The computer will say, ‘OK, we need to move a little bit to the left.'” We need to move a little to the right “and take us and then send these pictures back to Earth”.

About 8 hours before the collision, the team handed over control to the SMART Nav system because they were “patting the head and saying good luck,” Rifkin said.

In the final hours, DART chooses the site of impact and orients itself downwards. He will keep sending pictures again until he can no longer.

“It’ll start out as a small point of light, and then eventually it will zoom in and fill the entire field of view of the images that come back. You’ll be able to see things that could be centimeters of pixels, and these images will go on until they don’t last,” said Nancy Chabot, lead for the DART format.

Scientists say the success of DART will ultimately depend on its ability to see and manipulate images of Didymos and Demorphos to steer the spacecraft toward the asteroid, especially in the last four hours before the collision. At this point, DART will need to self-mobilize to successfully influence Dimorphos without any human intervention.

“These images are returning to Earth at a rate of one per second, and the plan is to broadcast them live on NASA TV broadcasts. And as I said, this is going to be absolutely amazing,” Chabot explained.

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Once the impact occurs, the scientists will use ground-based telescopes and satellites to see if their plan is working.

A satellite the size of a toaster to recreate images

On Sunday, DART deployed a small Italian space agency satellite called LICIACube to record the collision and its aftermath.

The LICIACUbe is about the size of a cereal box and contains two cameras named after the “Star Wars” characters: LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) and LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid).

LICIACube will then fly through Dimorphos about three minutes after DART’s death to take pictures of the effect’s effects.

“I’m really excited to have it out there flying because we want to see some amazing pictures, some recent pictures of the stars right there right from this little CubeSat. This is technology that 10 or 15 years ago seemed crazy in this context,” NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said on Monday. .

watching from afar

Meanwhile, the James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes will monitor the asteroid system and measure the change in Demorphos’ orbit around Didymus.

Once DART affects the Dimorphos, it will change its orbit within the binary system. The DART investigation team will compare DART’s kinetic impact results with Dimorphos in a highly detailed computer simulation of kinetic impacts on asteroids.

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After the collision, the investigation team will measure how much the asteroid is deviating using telescopes on Earth.

Telescopic observations, images taken by Draco, impact images from LICIACube, and data collected later by the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will help scientists build more accurate models to better prepare if a future asteroid impact threat is detected.

NASA plans to conduct live coverage of the DART impact on the asteroid Dimorphos on its website and social media channels.