SpaceX will soon launch the world’s first planetary defense demonstration mission for NASA. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will be NASA's first flight to test technology that could protect our planet from a potential asteroid impact. “NASA will intentionally crash the DART spacecraft into an asteroid to see if that is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future,” SpaceX representatives announced.
NASA will intentionally crash the DART spacecraft into an asteroid to see if that is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 19, 2021
SpaceX will launch NASA’s DART spacecraft on November 23rd towards the binary asteroid system ‘Didymos’ that has a moonlet called ‘Dimorphos’. The spacecraft will lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base’s Launch Complex-4 in California at 10:21 p.m. PST [date is subject to change]. The spacecraft will separate from the launch vehicle and cruise for over a year in outer space until arriving at the binary asteroid system in mid-September. It will 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.
The larger asteroid, Didymos, measures about 2,540 feet (775 meters) wide, Dimorphos measures 540 feet (165 meters) across. The asteroids pose no threat to Earth, NASA will only test the space defense method, technology, and concept of operations. The DART vehicle will attempt to change the course of the smaller asteroid by deliberately crashing into it at a speed of approximately 6.6 km/s (kilometers per second) with the aid of an onboard camera, called DRACO, and high-tech autonomous navigation software. “The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth,” NASA representatives said.
The DART spacecraft was attached to the Falcon 9 payload adapter on November 11 inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base. A team of workers with NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), SpaceX, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) completed the integration in preparation for launch. “Mating the payload to the adapter is a very important milestone for the mission since it is the critical interface between the spacecraft and launch vehicle, where the two come together and need to separate cleanly to send the spacecraft on its planetary defense journey,” said Marisa Wyssling-Horn, integration engineer with LSP.
DART was then encapsulated into the Falcon 9 payload fairing and attached and rolled out to the launch pad. This afternoon, SpaceX announced it completed a static-firing of the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the DART spacecraft to orbit to ensure it is ready for liftoff. “Static fire test complete – targeting Tuesday, November 23 at 10:21 p.m. PT for Falcon 9’s launch of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test,” the company announced.
Featured Images Source: NASA