Scientists from NASA are moving ahead with an ambitious plan to test a new type of asteroid deflection system, and the future of our planet might depend on its success. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft has been scheduled to move into the preliminary design phase after NASA approved its further development on June 23rd. The DART, a kinetic impactor, would shift incoming asteroids off course by smashing into them at speeds of up to 3.7 miles per second (6 kilometers per second), nine times faster than a speeding bullet.
Up until now, NASA’s primary plan for deflecting dangerous space objects relied on using a spacecraft to gradually “tug” the asteroid out of our planet’s path with its gravity. This “gravity tractor” approach, where the satellite would fly alongside the asteroid for years––and even decades––works on a longer timescale and would require developing new technology before becoming feasible.
“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique — striking the asteroid to shift its orbit — to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”
The Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) Mission has been scheduled to launch in October 2020, with the DART mission planned for October of 2022.
Didymos, Greek for twin, is a binary system composed of Didymos A, half a mile wide (780 meters), and Didymos B, which is only 530 feet (160 meters) in size. The Asteroid Impact Mission spacecraft will first take high-resolution scans of the asteroids’ surfaces, followed by the DART impact two years later.
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