Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission: NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is about to launch its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.
- It is the first Kinetic Impactor Method of planetary defence, where a DART spacecraft will be colliding with the asteroid Dimorphos.
- The Kinetic Impactor Method involves sending one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an approaching near-earth object.
- This could deflect the asteroid into a different trajectory, steering it away from the Earth’s orbital path.
- Data obtained from DART’s crash will be compared to the data from various computer simulations run by scientists to ascertain whether this kinetic impactor method will remain a viable option in case of an actual threatening asteroid.
- Scientists don’t yet know the exact mass of Dimorphos but it is estimated to be around five billion kilograms.
- The DART spacecraft weighs around 600 kilograms.
- DART is a low-cost spacecraft.
- It has two solar arrays and uses hydrazine propellant for maneuvering the spacecraft.
- It also carries about 10 kg of xenon which will be used to demonstrate the agency’s new thrusters called NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster–Commercial (NEXT-C) in space.
- NEXT-C gridded ion thruster system provides a combination of performance and spacecraft integration capabilities that make it uniquely suited for deep space robotic missions.
- The spacecraft carries a high-resolution imager called Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO).
- Images from DRACO will be sent to Earth in real-time and will help study the impact site and surface of Dimorphos (the target asteroid).
- DART will also carry a small satellite or CubeSat named LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids).
- LICIACube is expected to capture images of the impact and the impact crater formed as a result of the collision.
- The mission is to test the new technology to be prepared in case an asteroid heads towards Earth in the future.
- The aim is to test the newly developed technology that would allow a spacecraft to crash into an asteroid and change its course.
- The target of the spacecraft is a small moonlet called Dimorphos (Greek for “two forms”).
- Dimorphos orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos (Greek for “twin”).
- It is a suicide mission and the spacecraft will be completely destroyed.