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NASA’s DART to impact asteroid’s moonlet

Image: Illustration of the DART spacecraft with the ROSA extended (NASA)

Edinburgh, 7 October 2021. – NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is targeted to launch on 23rd November aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, NASA announced. The mission will be an evaluation of technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from impacting Earth.

DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impact deflection technique. This involves sending one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an asteroid to change its motion, NASA said. The planetary defence-driven test’s target is the binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos and its moonlet. The primary body of Didymos is approximately 780 m across and its moonlet is about 160 m. The latter is a more typical size of an asteroid that could pose threat to our planet.

The DART spacecraft will purposely crash itself into the moonlet at a speed of 6.6 km/s. NASA claims that the collision will change the orbital speed of the moonlet around the main body. Although this change will only be a fraction of one percent, it will still alter the orbital period by several minutes.

DART will meet with Didymos’ moonlet in late September 2022, within 11 million km of Earth. This will allow for ground-based telescope observations and planetary radar to measure any changes in momentum.