NASA’s DART: The First Test of Humanity’s Planetary Defense System

NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft is scheduled to crash into asteroid Demorphos at approximately 7.14 p.m. EDT Sept. 26 (4.44 a.m. EDT Sept. 27). The mission will test a method that can be used to redirect asteroids that pose a threat to our planet. Using the impact of a massive object such as a spacecraft to divert asteroids is called the “kinetic impact method” to avoid asteroid collisions.

The 160-meter-wide asteroid Demorphos orbits the much larger asteroid Didymos, which is about 780 meters wide. After DART crashes into Dimorphos, it will slightly change the way you orbit Didymos. Telescopes on our planet and in space – including the Webb telescope and the Hubble telescope – will be trained on this asteroid system to take measurements of changes in the system.

“This is humanity’s first planetary defense test mission. This is the first time defense technology has been tested in a civilian mission. We also don’t know what the exact shape of the target is or what it is made of,” said Robert Brown, head of space exploration at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory ( APL) during a NASA press conference, but we intend to understand its shape and composition based on the change in its orbit and based on ejected matter.

While Dimorphos pose no actual threat to Earth, scientists will compare data from the actual impact of DART with several computer-generated simulations they have already performed. This will help ascertain whether the kinetic impact method would be effective as a mitigation strategy in the event of an actual asteroid threat.

The exact mass of Dimorphos is unknown but NASA estimates it at 5 billion kilograms. DART weighs about 600 kilograms. According to NASA, this would be similar to a golf cart crash at the Great Pyramid. “This is intended to be a small nudge that will slightly change the position of the asteroid. If there is an actual threat anticipated, that is something we will do five, ten, twenty years in advance,” said Nancy Chabot, head of DART coordination at NASA, during the press conference.

The only instrument on board the DART spacecraft is the DRACO, or Didymos Reconnaissance Camera and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation. The HD camera will take pictures of Didymos and Dimorphos while supporting the DART independent guidance system at the same time.

“For the past four hours, we will go into the final phase and make sure that DRACO stays oriented at Didymos. At this point, everything is autonomous. DART will target Didymos until about 50 minutes before impact,” said Evan Smith, Deputy Mission Systems Engineer at DART. degree in terms of field of view to set itself on a path to Dimorphos.”
“This is a very ‘sweaty’ time for us. The spacecraft is so far away that it takes 38 seconds for one-way communication. It will travel at 6 kilometers per second. It’s traveling at a speed that will cover the distance between the capital and Philadelphia in about 40 seconds,” Smith explained .

Aside from the James Webb Telescope, Hubble Telescope, and many other space telescopes located here on Earth, a satellite very close to the vicinity of the asteroid system will also have its eyes trained to collide. This is a CubeSat named LICIACube.

According to the Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, which built the CubeSat, LICIACube separated from DART on September 12 and began operating independently. The two cameras on board the CubeSat will transmit images again even after DRACO is unable to do so.

But is there really a chance that the Earth will be threatened by an asteroid collision in the near future? Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, explained the reasons for such a mission. “We are not aware of a single object that threatens the Earth now in the next 100 years. But I guarantee you that there will be one eventually. We can infer that from the geological records of our planet and even the data of the Moon. We want to test the technology now so that it is ready in case we ever need it.”

This test will not affect the asteroid system in any way that could pose a threat to Earth. Zurbuchen added in response to a reporter who asked if the test could cause a threat to Earth.

Aside from helping to test an asteroid mitigation strategy, the DART mission will also test technologies such as the DRACO Camera and an advanced version of NASA’s Integrated Solar Arrays (ROSA). The successful demonstration of these technologies will make them important tools in the “toolbox” for future space exploration.

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