NASA plans to test a method for protecting Earth against an asteroid impact. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will be NASA's first flight demonstration for asteroid defense that will attempt to shift an asteroid’s direction and orbit through kinetic impact with a spacecraft designed by the agency. The DART spacecraft will be launched by SpaceX towards a binary asteroid system of a large asteroid called ‘Didymos,’ which measures about 2,540 feet (775 meters) wide, and a smaller asteroid called ‘Dimorphos,’ which measures 540 feet (165 meters) across. The two asteroids are orbiting one another, the DART vehicle will attempt to change the course of the smaller asteroid by impacting it to changing its orbital motion away from the larger asteroid. This demonstration will test whether a spacecraft impact could be used to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
The DART spacecraft will liftoff atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission was initially scheduled to take place this year during a timeframe scheduled between July 21, 2021 to August 24, 2021. NASA announced that the DART mission is now delayed into a secondary launch window, from November 24, 2021 to February 15, 2022. “The DART project is currently working with SpaceX and NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) to identify the earliest possible launch opportunity within this secondary window,” the agency said in a press release in February. NASA scientists target to impact the asteroid system by September 30, 2022.
NASA says that the DART launch was delayed amid the coronavirus outbreak that caused supply chain impacts and engineers were awaiting spacecraft components, including the spacecraft solar arrays called ‘ROSA’. They also faced technical challenges associated with the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical-navigation (DRACO) imager, which engineers are working to reinforce to ensure it withstands the stress of launch. “At NASA, mission success and safety are of the utmost importance, and after a careful risk assessment, it became clear DART could not feasibly and safely launch within the primary launch window,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “To ensure DART is poised for mission success, NASA directed the team pursue the earliest possible launch opportunity during the secondary launch window to allow more time for DRACO testing and delivery of ROSA, and provide a safe working environment through the COVID-19 pandemic.” Author's note: Thanks for supporting TESMANIAN! Twitter: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Featured Image Source: NASA
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.