In a move that sounds eerily reminiscent of the 1998 flick “Armageddon,” NASA plans to launch a Nov. 23 mission to test a technique that could prevent an asteroid from slamming into Earth.
The mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is led for NASA by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, NBC News reported.
Simply put, the mission is designed to “punch an asteroid in the face with a high-speed spacecraft,” Live Science reported.
More specifically, the mission is a test of NASA’s planetary defense system that could, theoretically, redirect a “hazardous asteroid” before it obliterates life on Earth by utilizing kinetic impactor technique, or shooting one or more large spacecraft into the path of an oncoming asteroid in order to change the space rock’s motion, the outlet reported.
According to NBC News, DART will hitch a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to a near-Earth asteroid system called Didymos.
“It will confirm for us what the viability of the kinetic impactor technique is for diverting an asteroid’s orbit and determine that it remains a viable option, at least for smaller-sized asteroids, which are the most frequent impact hazard,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer, told Space.com earlier this year.
The system consists of a nearly half-a-mile-wide body orbited by a roughly 525-foot-wide moonlet, “which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth,” NASA stated.
DART, aided by cameras and autonomous navigation systems, will crash into the moonlet at 4.1 miles per second, the agency stated.
“The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of 1%, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes — enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth,” NASA stated.
The launch is scheduled for 10:20 p.m. PT Nov. 23 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, but the spacecraft will separate from the rocket and cruise for about 10 months before it is projected to intercept Didymos in September 2022, NBC News reported.
DART will also use solar panels to charge electric ion thrusters, demonstrating another emerging space propulsion technology, NASA said.
“By utilizing electric propulsion, DART could benefit from significant flexibility to the mission timeline while demonstrating the next generation of ion engine technology, with applications to potential future NASA missions,” NASA said.
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