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NASA Holds Preview Briefing for DART Planetary Defense Mission

DART mission
NASA held a preview briefing on Thursday for its upcoming DART planetary defense mission. Credit: Public Domain

NASA held a preview briefing on Thursday for its upcoming DART mission. DART, which is an acronym for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is meant to test the space agency’s ability to defend the planet from an asteroid in the event that one is headed in Earth’s direction.

There is no known threat at this time, but NASA wants to test their technology’s preparedness. The preview briefing featured members of DART’s team answering questions from the general public on DART’s launch and mission.

The DART mission involves launching a spacecraft into an asteroid in order to deflect it from its original path. The mission’s launch will take place later this month, at 1:20 a.m. EST on November 24.

NASA will be sending a spacecraft out to two asteroids known as the Didymos binary. The spacecraft will be part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

DART aims to make impact with one of the asteroids, known as Dimorphos, at around 13,500 mph (21,726 kmh) on October 2, 2022 — almost an entire year after launching.

Dimorphos is over 500 feet wide and orbits a gigantic space rock called Didymos. Didymos is roughly five times the size of Dimorphos.

NASA will use kinetic impact to reach Didymoon asteroid

NASA officially deems any near-Earth object (NEO) to be “potentially hazardous” when it is within 0.05 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) and measures over 460 feet in diameter. While Dimorphos is not a threat to Earth, it matches the profile of NEO’s that NASA aims to protect the planet from with this technology, so has been selected for the test demonstration:

“While the Didymos primary body is approximately 780 meters across, its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 160-meters in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth. The Didymos binary is being intensely observed using telescopes on Earth to precisely measure its properties before DART arrives,” NASA said in its overview of the DART mission.

The space agency says that DART will use the “kinetic impactor” technique for the first time:

“DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique, which involves sending one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an asteroid in space to change its motion,” NASA said.

They had previously explained kinetic impact in 2017:

“Kinetic impaction involves sending one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an approaching near-earth object. This could deflect the asteroid into a different trajectory, steering it away from the Earth’s orbital path. NASA demonstrated on a small scale with the Deep Impact mission of 2005. If preparations were made in advance so that kinetic impactors were available upon detection, the National Academy of Sciences would require a warning time of at least 1 to 2 years for smaller asteroids.”


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