SpaceX will launch NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft that will be deployed to crash into a binary asteroid system. It sounds like a plot from a science fiction film but the agency really will test asteroid deflection technology that could protect Earth against a potential asteroid impact. The first planetary defense test mission will provide NASA scientists with data to determine if their method to change an asteroid's orbital speed works. DART will intentionally crash into a small asteroid, called ‘Dimorphos’, mission leaders shared it is the size of a large football stadium. NASA will see how Dimorphos reacts when the refrigerator-size spacecraft crashes into it at a speed of 15,000 miles per hour. Dimorphos is orbiting a larger asteroid named ‘Didymos,' it's orbital speed is expected to be changed. Astronomers will measure the change with ground-based telescopes and radar.
DART is scheduled to liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base Launch Complex-4 in California on Tuesday, November 23 at 10:21 p.m. PST (Wednesday, November 24 at 1:21 a.m. EST). DART will arrive to the binary asteroid system in around one year. It will impact Dimorphos sometime between September 26, 2022 to October 2, 2022. The DART spacecraft is expected to be completely destroyed upon impact. DART is also carrying a small CubeSat by the Italian Space Agency called ‘LICIACube’, that will be released ten days before it impacts the asteroid. LICIACube is equipped to take photographs of the impact event and the crater to send views to astronomers on Earth – 11 million miles away. LICIACube is equipped with two cameras named after the Star Wars film franchise, LEIA is a high-resolution camera that will capture black and white photos of the asteroid surface upon impact. It can view in greyscale with to highlight the plumes and debris that may be created. The other camera, LUKE, is equipped with red-green-blue color filters that can capture images in a colorized spectrum to enable researchers to analyze the asteroid's terrain in more detail.
NASA announced on Monday that the DART spacecraft was encapsulated atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket payload fairings. “Technicians with SpaceX installed the two halves of the fairing around the spacecraft over the course of two days, Nov. 16 and 17, inside the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California,” agency representatives stated. “The payload fairing serves as a barrier to the harsh environment of the atmosphere during DART’s launch and ascent atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.” The Falcon 9 first-stage booster that will support this mission previously conducted two spaceflights.
“The encapsulation event is a significant milestone in DART’s launch process as it marks the last direct access to the spacecraft and completion of all major testing milestones prior to launch,” said Joan Misner, NASA’s Launch Service Program integration engineer. “The team has worked around the clock to ensure they wouldn’t miss a thing.” NASA also completed a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) at Vandenberg to ensure all is ready for flight. “The purpose of the FRR is to update the team on the status of the mission, close out actions from previous readiness reviews, and certify the readiness to proceed with initiation of final launch preparation activities,” they said. The U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron forecasts favorable weather conditions for liftoff. –“Weather is 90% go for the DART launch on Nov. 23, with only a 10% of violation (POV) for winds with no other area of concern. POV for backup day is 0% with no area of concern,” representatives stated. Read more details about the DART mission in the previous TESMANIAN article: NASA’s DART Team Shares Details About The Upcoming SpaceX Launch That Will Crash A Spacecraft Into An Asteroid
WATCH IT LIVE! (Schedule is in Eastern Time)
Nov. 23, Tuesday
12 p.m. – NASA EDGE: Live DART Show
4 p.m. – NASA Science Live: We’re Crashing a Spacecraft into an Asteroid…on Purpose!
Nov. 24, Wednesday
12:30 a.m. – Coverage of the launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (Launch scheduled at 1:21 a.m. EST)
Featured Image Source: NASA & SpaceX