Craft set to crash with asteroid moonlet
Move over, Bruce Willis.
He saved the world from an asteroid, but that was only in the 1998 movie “Armageddon.” NASA is taking a real-universe step toward protecting the Earth from future asteroids during its first planetary defense test mission.
And that mission began with the launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, sitting on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, at 10:21 p.m. Tuesday from Complex-4 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.
The spacecraft is known as DART for short, and that’s exactly what it’s designed to do, to dart toward an asteroid moonlet, Dimporhos, while going incredibly fast — 15,000 mph to be precise. Once it arrives, DART, which weighs more than 1,200 pounds and is about the size of a vending machine, will intentionally crash into the asteroid moonlet, which is about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Tuesday’s launch got the attention of Santa Barbara County residents, who saw and heard it from their homes, at least as far south as Carpinteria.
In fall 2022, DART is expected to hit Dimorphos, which orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos. That will cause Dimorphos to change its orbit within the Didymos binary asteroid system, Vandenberg explained in a news release.
According to the space force base, the Didymos system is ideal for DART because it has actually no impact threat to Earth. And scientists can measure the change in the asteroid moonlet’s orbit with ground-based telescopes.
“DART’s single instrument, the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), will turn on a week from now and provide first images from the spacecraft,” NASA reported in a separate news release.
“DART will show that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it – a method of deflection called kinetic impact,” NASA noted. “The test will provide important data to help better prepare for an asteroid that might pose an impact hazard to Earth, should one ever be discovered.
“ICIACube, a CubeSat riding with DART and provided by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), will be released prior to DART’s impact to capture images of the impact and the resulting cloud of ejected matter,” NASA continued. “Roughly four years after DART’s impact, ESA’s (European Space Agency) Hera project will conduct detailed surveys of both asteroids, with particular focus on the crater left by DART’s collision and a precise determination of Dimorphos’ mass.”
For more information, go to www.nasa.gov/dartmission.