NASA launches a first mission to test space technology to defend Earth from asteroids

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NASA and SpaceX on Tuesday night launched a spacecraft that will crash into an asteroid, the first test ever to see if it is possible to redirect a space rock that could crush the planet.

The experimental technology took off at 22:21 PST on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, NASA announced. Its goal? The Moon, Dimorphos.

The spacecraft will collide into the asteroid – which NASA This is not a threat to Earth – and changes its course somewhat as part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. Dimorphos orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos about 6.8 million miles from Earth and measures about 530 feet in diameter.

“DART turns science fiction into science fact and is a proof of NASAproactivity and innovation for the benefit of all, ” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Except in every way NASA studying our universe and our home planet, we are also working to protect that home, and this test will help prove a viable way to protect our planet from a dangerous asteroid should anyone ever be discovered on their way to Earth. “

The mission will test a deflection method called kinetic impact, where a spacecraft can independently navigate to the target and hit an asteroid. The test will provide important information to prepare for an asteroid that could hit Earth, NASA sa.

DART’s spacecraft will not reach the asteroid system until sometime between September 26 and October 1, 2022, when it hits Dimorphos at about 4 miles per second, or more than 14,000 mph. Scientists estimate that the hit will cut the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos by several minutes.

The spacecraft’s asteroid camera will turn on in a week and reveal the first images from the satellite. DART will travel on the edge of the Earth’s orbit around the sun for the next 10 months until Didymos and Dimorphos are about 6.8 million miles from Earth.

Scientists would like to measure the effect of the spacecraft’s collision with the asteroid using ground-based telescopes.

About four years after the test, the European Space Agency’s Hera project will conduct studies of Dimorphos and Didymos, focusing on the crater left by DART’s collision with the moon.

Dimorphos orbits Didymos at a much slower rate than the asteroid pair orbiting the sun, which means that the impact of the redirection test can be measured more easily than a change in a single asteroid’s orbit around the sun, according to NASA.

A control system will allow the spacecraft to identify between the two asteroids and redirect towards Dimorphos. NASA said that the whole process will take place within about an hour after the impact.

The DART was built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

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