NASA has announced a planetary defense initiative: the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or informally, DART. The mission is to collide into a binary system of asteroids named Didymos, which means twin in Greek. The system is composed of two asteroids in which one larger asteroid, Didymos, is orbited by a moonlet asteroid, Dimorphos, which is smaller than its parent asteroid. Dimorphos is 160 meters wide, which makes it a small asteroid, but it is the perfect target for this mission. DART, the spacecraft, is about the size of a school bus, or 11 meters wide.
DART will collide almost head-on with Dimorphos and attempt to redirect it off of its course, even though Didymos' course is not headed towards Earth. "This isn't going to destroy the asteroid, it's just going to give it a small nudge," says Nancy Chabot, who is DART's coordination lead. All in all, this is to deflect the asteroid into a different direction to see how much force DART will need to deflect an armageddon-sized asteroid.
DART will use the kinetic impactor technique to slam into Dimorphos. Simply, it is the idea that DART will slam into Dimporphos at a very high speed to provide a small nudge that will lead to a big trajectory change over time. When DART hits the asteroid, it will send impact data back to Earth, and scientists will study this data to aid in a hypothetical situation in the future in which a threatening asteroid may be headed towards Earth. This system of asteroids is perfect because it is a good size, not headed towards Earth, and can be studied after the impact.
DART costs 313.9 million dollars, which will soon be crashing into an asteroid and destroyed forever. This is important however because NASA and other space agencies will have vital data to protect the Earth for as long as they can. The safety of Earth is far more valuable than worrying about the money needed to build this project.
DART will be launching sometime by the end of November and will arrive at the system in about a year. This tiny but mighty spacecraft has the potential to save the Earth one day. Best of luck to the NASA team and DART team!
Sources From Today:
"DART, NASA's test to stop an asteroid from hitting Earth." The Planetary Society, www.planetary.org/space-missions/dart.
Didymos asteroid system. 2018. The European Space Agency, ESA, 6 Apr. 2018, www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2018/06/Didymos_asteroid_system.
ESA. An illustration of ESA's AIM spacecraft, accompanied by two cubesats, observing the collision of NASA's DART spacecraft with a near Earth asteroid. Space News, 13 Dec. 2016, spacenews.com/nasa-presses-ahead-with-asteroid-mission-despite-esa-funding-decision/.
Handal, Josh, and Michael Buckley. "NASA's DART Prepares for Launch in First Planetary Defense Test Mission." Edited by Tricia Talbert. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, 4 Nov. 2021, www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-s-dart-prepares-for-launch-in-first-planetary-defense-test-mission.
"Mission Overview." DART, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory LLC, dart.jhuapl.edu/Mission/index.php.
"NASA asteroid redirection mission closing in on launch." Youtube, uploaded by WKMG News 6 ClickOrlando, 4 Nov. 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9dsIn3JDwY.
Talbert, Tricia, editor. "Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission." National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, 4 Nov. 2021, www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense/dart.