NASA spacecraft about to hit the asteroid after launch

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NASA launched a spacecraft on Tuesday night in a mission to crush an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock a rushing spacecraft off course if it were to threaten the earth.

The DART spacecraft, an abbreviation for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a US $ 330 million project with echoes from the Bruce Willis movie Armageddon.

If all goes well, in September 2022 it will strike straight at Dimorphos, an asteroid with a diameter of 160 meters, at 24,000 km / h.

“This will not destroy the asteroid. It will only give it a little push,” said commissioner Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is leading the project.

Dimorphos orbits a much larger asteroid called Didymos. The pair is no danger to Earth but offers scientists a way to measure the effectiveness of the collision.

Dimorphos orbits Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes. DART’s target is a crash that will slow down Dimorphos and cause it to fall closer to the larger asteroid and shave 10 minutes from its orbit.

In this image taken from NASA video, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft on board, on Tuesday, November 23, 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. NASA launched the spacecraft on a mission to hit an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock a rushing spacecraft off course if it were to threaten the earth. (NASA / Associated Press)

The change in the orbital period will be measured with a telescope on Earth. The minimum change for the mission to be considered a success is 73 seconds.

Technology could be used for decades to ward off threats

DART technology can prove useful for changing the course of an asteroid years or decades before it ends up on Earth with the potential for disaster.

A small push “would add a big change to its future position, and then the asteroid and Earth would not be on a collision course,” Chabot said.

Scientists are constantly searching for asteroids and planning their courses to determine if they can hit the planet.

“Although there is not currently a known asteroid heading for Earth, we know that there is a large population of terrestrial asteroids out there,” said Lindley Johnson, a planetary defense officer at NASA. “The key to planetary defense is to find them well in advance before they are a threat to influence.”

DART will take 10 months to reach the asteroid pair. The collision will occur approximately 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.

Ten days in advance, DART will release a small observation craft from the Italian space agency that will follow it.

DART will stream video until it is destroyed on impact. Three minutes later, the trailing craft will take pictures of the crash site and material being ejected.

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