A Mission To Deflect Asteroid Moves Into Final Stage

Posted: Sep 15 2018, 11:05am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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A Mission to Deflect Asteroid Moves into Final Stage
Credit: DART / APL / NASA

NASA's DART spacecraft would strike a small asteroid and make a small change in the orbital speed of the target.

The first ever mission to deflect an asteroid for planetary defense has entered its final design and assembly phase. The mission, Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART, is scheduled to launch in 2021.

Asteroids, comets and other near-Earth objects pose a threat of colliding with our planet because their orbits sometimes bring them dangerously close to the Earth. Observatories keep close watch on all nearby objects and track their motion. But NASA is also working on ways to protect Earth from any possible impact and DART mission is one small piece of a comprehensive plan to prevent asteroids from crashing into Earth.

DART is a refrigerator-sized spacecraft that will demonstrate kinetic impactor technique on a small asteroid, which involves striking the object to shift its orbit. Its target is the asteroid Didymos that will make a distant approach to Earth in October 2022 and then again in 2024. Didymos is a binary asteroid that consists of two bodies: Didymos A and B. Didymos A is about 800 meters across and is orbited by a smaller 160-meter asteroid called Didymos B. DART will only strike the smaller of the two bodies during the mission.

The spacecraft will deliberately crash itself into Didymos B at a speed of 6 kilometers per second, about nine times faster than a bullet. The collision will change the speed of the asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity, but it should be enough to shift its path away from Earth. Earth-based observatories would view the impact and determine the resulting change in the orbit of Didymos B. If successful, kinetic impact could be used as the main strategy to defend Earth against potentially hazardous asteroids.

“With DART, we want to understand the nature of asteroids by seeing how a representative body reacts when impacted, with an eye toward applying that knowledge if we are faced with the need to deflect an incoming object,” said Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Andrew Rivkin, who co-leads the DART investigation. "In addition, DART will be the first planned visit to a binary asteroid system, which is an important subset of near-Earth asteroids and one we have yet to fully understand.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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