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NASA’s DART Is Set to Crash Into an Asteroid, On Purpose

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In November 2021, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) robotic spacecraft took off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, on a mission to intercept and change an asteroid’s orbit. Now it’s finally time to see the task in action.

The $325 million spacecraft has traveled 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth since November and Monday, September 26, and will attempt its goal of smashing into the tiny asteroid Demorphos that orbits a second, larger piece of space rock, Didymus. , where the pair travels in an elliptical orbit around the sun.

Although there’s no threat of Demorphos hitting Earth, it provides a safe target for testing technology that might one day help protect Earth from a catastrophic collision with a deadly asteroid, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and 75 percent of plant and animal life 66 years ago. A million years.

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When it reaches Demorphos on Monday, DART will smash into the space rock at about 4.1 miles (6.6 kilometers) per second, and hopefully give the asteroid enough jolt to change its orbit around its partner, slightly, but enough that the change can be observed by telescopes on Earth.

“It’s a tough job,” Julie Bellrose at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a news release. She leads the JPL’s DART astronautics team. “A big part of what the navigation team is working on is getting DART into a 9-mile-wide (15-kilometre) square of space 24 hours before impact.” Next, Bellrose said, the mission’s final trajectory correction maneuver will be performed by mission control on the ground. From now on, everything else is up to DART.

“DART is a test of the effectiveness of kinetic impact technology to change an asteroid’s orbital path, and of the spacecraft technology used to deliver a kinetic collider to a target asteroid,” explains Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, via email.

Here are five things you should know about DART.

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