NASA set to launch DART mission to deliberately crash spacecraft into an asteroid: Here’s why

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, also known as the DART mission, will be launched at 10:20 pm PT, on 23 November (1.20 am EST) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, in California.

Once the November launch takes place, NASA will then proceed to test its asteroid deflection technology in September 2022. The test will be carried out to see how they impact the motion of a near-Earth asteroid in space.

NASA is conducting the DART mission to evaluate the technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from striking the Earth. DART will intentionally crash into an asteroid, to change its motion in space.

This asteroid deflection technology’s target is Dimorphos. Dimorphos is a tiny moon orbiting the asteroid Didymos, which is a near-Earth asteroid. On behalf of planetary defense, NASA is carrying out its first full-scale demonstration of this type of technology.

An illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube before impact at the Didymos binary system. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

An illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube before impact at the Didymos binary system. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

NASA’s primary focus is to detect the threat of near-Earth objects (NEOs), as they could cause potential harm. Asteroids and comets whose orbits place them within 30 million miles of the Earth can be qualified as near-Earth objects.

NASA’s reason for choosing Dimorphos for this mission was because of its size, which could pose a threat to the Earth. DART will deliberately crash itself into Dimorphos at a speed of 14,763.8 miles per hour. A camera called DRACO will be attached to DART and its autonomous navigation software will help the spacecraft detect and collide with Dimorphos.

Dimorphos orbits Didymos by one percent and this crash will change Dimosphos’ speed as well as the moon’s orbital period by a few minutes. This change will be measured and examined by ground-based telescopes on Earth.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), this mission will be the first time when humans will be altering the dynamics of a solar system body in a measurable way.

Three years after this, the ESA’s Hera mission will conduct a follow-up investigation of Didymos and Dimorphos. It will be done to study Dimorphos in detail along with measuring the physical properties of the moon and also studying the DART impact and its orbit.