NASA will deflect an asteroid under Planetary Defense Test DART

WASHINGTON: NASA is going to deflect an asteroid under its first planetary defense test DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) to prepare for future asteroid threats and test its new technology on 23rd November in California.

DART is a test which will help determine whether intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course or not. The mission is being carried out to prepare for any Earth-threatening asteroid threats in future. Please note that DART’s target asteroid is not a threat to Earth.

“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 Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer.

He further adds “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.”

DART mission carries a price tag of $330 million according to NASA. The US agency has filled the spacecraft with fuel, performed some final tests, and is running rehearsals for the final mission. The spacecraft is designed to direct itself to impact an asteroid while traveling at a speed of roughly 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 kilometers per hour). 

Spacecraft will attempt to hit the moonlet asteroid Dimorphos, which orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos. The mission will be monitored by NASA from Earth-based telescopes along with gathering data to enhance modeling and predictive capabilities of future asteroid threat.

The meaning of the target asteroid Dimorphous is “two forms” in Greek with a diameter of 525 feet (160m). The crash will not destroy the asteroid but only give it a nudge to deflect its path, according to the scientists.

 “It’s only going to be a change of about one percent in that orbital period,” said Nancy Chabot, DART Coordination Lead.  She further adds “We are targeting to be as nearly head on as possible to cause the biggest deflection.”

The DART spacecraft is scheduled to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 10:20 pm Pacific time on 23rd November from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The launch will proceed as planned if weather conditions are suitable.

“It’s a miracle what this team has accomplished, with all of the obstacles in the way like COVID and the development of so many new technologies,” Elena Adams, DART Mission Systems Engineer.

Scientists and engineers have worked a lot on DART during the pandemic and managed to build the spacecraft with the various technologies that the mission will test.

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