On Saturday, November 21, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission team held a press conference to share details about the upcoming mission that will crash a spacecraft into an asteroid. DART is the agency’s first planetary defense test that will test technologies to protect Earth against a potential future asteroid impact. SpaceX will launch the DART spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday, November 23 at 10:21 p.m. PST (*Wednesday, November 24 at 1:21 a.m. EST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The spacecraft will be launched toward a binary asteroid system that is comprised of a large and small asteroid orbiting each other. The larger asteroid is named ‘Didymos’, it measures about 2,540 feet (775 meters) wide, the DART spacecraft will intentionally smash into the smaller asteroid called ‘Dimorphos’, that measures 540 feet (165 meters) across. The asteroid system poses no threat to Earth, NASA will only test the space defense method to determine if impacting an asteroid can change its orbital speed.
During the press conference, DART mission leaders shared that the demonstration planetary defense mission will provide insight for astronomers on Earth to determine if the technique of smashing into an asteroid would effectively protect our planet and all life in it. “…Let me start by painting the big picture, Earth orbits around the Sun, asteroids also orbit around the Sun and most asteroids are not a danger to Earth because they’re orbiting far from Earth’s orbit. The only asteroids that are potentially hazardous are those whose passage around the Sun intersects with Earth’s path,” said NASA DART Program Scientist Tom Statler.“…If Earth and the asteroid […] arrive at that intersection point at the same time an impact can happen,” he explained, “that’s what we are trying to prevent with the DART test.”
Statler said it will take around a year for the DART spacecraft to arrive to the binary asteroid system. DART is expected to intercept the Didymos’ moonlet sometime between September 26, 2022 to October 2, 2022. During the interception period the Didymos system will be within 11 million kilometers of Earth. Astronomers will observe the impact with ground-based telescopes and radar.
Statler said that if Earth ever faces an asteroid threat it will probably be from a small asteroid because there are more smaller asteroids in orbit than large ones. He says Dimorphos is around the size of a large football stadium and DART is the size of a refrigerator that will smash into it at approximately 15,000 miles per hour. –“DART is a legitimate test,” he says, that the technology and data they accumulate from the mission could potentially help protect Earth in the future. “DART has a camera, named DRACO, that will provide images of both asteroids and more importantly give information to spacecraft to autonomously direct itself to execute that kinetic impact,” he shared. “DRACO will give us close-up views of the asteroids, especially… of Dimorphos as it approaches its impact site in September.”
They also shared that ten days before the DART spacecraft crashes into Dimorphos, it will deploy a CubeSat by the Italian Space Agency that will take photographs of the impact crater and send views to Earth of the collision event. NASA’s DART Team hopes to find out how the asteroid reacts to the collision. The Team answered questions about the mission, you can watch the 1-hour press conference in the video linked below. Stay tuned for the launch next week, schedule is in Pacific Time.
LIVE NOW: Tune in as #DARTMission leaders share the details of our upcoming launch to test asteroid deflection technology. Get to know the mission https://t.co/TJn4hq8QKW— NASA (@NASA) November 21, 2021
Have asteroid questions? Send them over with #AskNASA! https://t.co/4VbGZo2c2u
NASA TV SCHEDULE (Eastern Time)
Monday, November 22
7 p.m. – DART prelaunch news conference on NASA TV with the following participants:
Tuesday, November 23
4 p.m. – NASA Science Live, with the following participants:
Wednesday, November 24
12:30 a.m. – NASA TV live launch coverage begins.
*11/22/2021 Editor's note: Updated Schedule to Eastern Time.
WATCH IT LIVE!
Featured Image Source: NASA