NASA intentionally crashes DART into Asteroid to test planetary defense technology – the spacecraft was launched by SpaceX

NASA intentionally crashes DART into Asteroid to test planetary defense technology – the spacecraft was launched by SpaceX

NASA performed the world’s first-ever planetary defense demonstration mission today! The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is NASA's debut to test technology that could protect Earth from a potential asteroid threat in the future. The agency wants to determine whether crashing a spacecraft could deflect an asteroid on a collision course with our planet. NASA intentionally crashed the DART spacecraft into an asteroid at 7:14 p.m. EDT. The agency live streamed the impact, watch the video below. The DART spacecraft was launched to orbit by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on November 23, 2021 towards the binary asteroid system comprised of ‘Didymos’ and it's moonlet called ‘Dimorphos’. After a 10-month-long journey, DART arrived to its destination on September 26. It has traveled over 11 million kilometers away from Earth. "Congratulations on successfully crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid!" wrote SpaceX to NASA teams. 

The DART spacecraft smashed into Dimorphos at a speed of approximately 14,000 miles per hour. As the spacecraft approached to crash into the asteroid, the DART team in mission control cheered with excitement as they observed the space rock's surface in more detail. “It went from a collection of individual pixels and now you can see the shape and shading and texture of Didymos, and you can see the same thing with Dimorophos as we get closer and closer. This is so cool!” said Lori Glaze, NASA’s Planetary Science Division director, 2-minutes before impact.  

Suddenly the screen went blank, confirming the spacecraft smashed into the moonlet. "Hey, Congratulations! Boy, the DART Team really did this one very well! It's been a successful completion of the first part of the world's first planetary defense test," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson soon after the spacecraft smashed into the asteroid. "There were years of hard work, there was a lot of innovation and creativity that went into this mission. And I believe it's going to teach us how one day to protect our own planet from an incoming asteroid. I really look forward to learning all about what's happening from the observatories. So, they can tell us about the changes in this asteroid's orbit," said Nelson. "Thank you to this international team. We are showing that planetary defense is a global endeavor and it is very possible to save our planet." 

NASA scientists at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, estimate the kinetic impact will slightly alter Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos, they predict it will slow its orbital speed. "The investigation team will now observe Dimorphos using ground-based telescopes to confirm that DART’s impact altered the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos. Researchers expect the impact to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1%, or roughly 10 minutes; precisely measuring how much the asteroid was deflected is one of the primary purposes of the full-scale test," said NASA representatives in a press release.

For scale perspective, the DART spacecraft is around the size of a large vending machine and around the size of a school bus with open solar panels. The Dimorphos asteroid is 530-feet in diameter, around the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza. And the Didymos asteroid has a diameter of 2,560-feet, as large as the U.S. Washington Monument. 

It is important to mention that DART’s target asteroid is not a threat to Earth. This asteroid system is a testing ground to determine if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future. “Planetary Defense is a globally unifying effort that affects everyone living on Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now we know we can aim a spacecraft with the precision needed to impact even a small body in space. Just a small change in its speed is all we need to make a significant difference in the path an asteroid travels.”




Featured Image Source: NASA

About the Author

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

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.

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