The mission is called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) and its target is hazardous near-earth binary asteroid Didymos.
Asteroid danger to Earth
In November, NASA will undertake a major risk-averting mission in an attempt to tackle an asteroid that may pose an enormous collision threat to Earth. The mission is called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) and its target is hazardous near-earth binary asteroid Didymos.
A binary means that Didymos consists of two bodies, the primary one being 780 meters in length whereas the secondary body (called moonlet) spanning 160 meters in size. The secondary body falls in the range of space bodies that have the most chances of posing a threat of collision with Earth.
The binary asteroid is being monitored by Earth telescopes for understanding its properties. NASA’s DART mission aims to collide with the secondary body of Didymos and change its orbital period by several minutes, allowing ample time for the body and collision event to be observed and measured by scientists back on Earth.
This will be the first time that NASA demonstrated its novel technique to intercept the path of near-Earth objects. It is called the kinetic impactor technique. It involved sending one or more high-speed spacecraft to intercept the path of a body and change its direction, thus minimizing collision threat. DART mission will test the leading space agency’s planetary defense capabilities.
The mission launch date is November 23 at 10:20 pm (November 24 at 10:50 am as per India time). The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will take the DART to Didymos from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Once it separates from the launch vehicle, NASA’s DART will head towards Didymos asteroid, traveling for more than a year. It is expected to intercept the secondary body of Didymos in September 2022 around 11 million kilometers away from Earth. It will crash into Didymos at a speed of around 6.6 km-s.
An onboard camera called DRACO and autonomous navigation software will assist DART. Its electric propulsion will be powered by solar energy collected by its Roll-Out Solar Arrays (ROSA).