NASA launches spacecraft to test asteroid defense concept

Caption
NASA's DART Spacecraft Will Test , a Planetary Defense System.The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission involves an untested technique of nudging an asteroid off its course.The test asteroid is 6 million miles from Earth and poses no threat. .A lot of times when I tell people that NASA is actually doing this mission, they kind of don't believe it at first, maybe because it has been the thing of movies, Nancy Chabot, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, via NPR News.If successful, DART missions could be used to encounter asteroids too small to track .but large enough to cause significant damage to densely populated areas.The right time to deflect an asteroid is as far away from the Earth as we can, Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, via NPR News.The strategy is to find these objects not only years but decades before they are any kind of an impact hazard to the Earth, Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, via NPR News.Asteroids that are large enough to wipe out the entire planet are tracked around the clock by NASA.While Hollywood disaster films usually emphasize asteroid destruction, scientists say the DART mission is different.DART is demonstrating asteroid deflection. It is absolutely not asteroid disruption, which is how it goes a lot of times in the movies, Nancy Chabot, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, via NPR News.In cooperation with other global space agencies, NASA officials are hopeful DART missions could be useful if a threat arises.We think that this technique ... would be a part of the toolbox that we are starting to build of capabilities to deflect an asteroid, Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, via NPR News.While there is no eminent threat to Earth, the DART test is not arbitrary.We do know that there is a large population of near-Earth asteroids out there, Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, via NPR News

LOS ANGELES — NASA launched a spacecraft Tuesday night on a mission to smash into an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock a speeding space rock off course if one were to threaten Earth.

The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a $330 million project with echoes of the Bruce Willis movie “Armageddon.”

Caption
The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen Tuesday night from Simi Valley, California, after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Credit: Mark J. Terrill

The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen Tuesday night from Simi Valley, California, after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Caption
The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen Tuesday night from Simi Valley, California, after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Credit: Mark J. Terrill

Credit: Mark J. Terrill

If all goes well, in September 2022 it will slam head-on into Dimorphos, an asteroid 525 feet across, at 15,000 mph.

“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a small nudge,” said mission official Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the project.

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

“This isn't going to destroy the asteroid. It's just going to give it a small nudge."

- mission official Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the project

Dimorphos completes one orbit of Didymos every 11 hours, 55 minutes. DART’s goal is a crash that will slow down Dimorphos and cause it to fall closer toward the bigger asteroid, shaving 10 minutes off its orbit.

Caption
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard. NASA launched the spacecraft Tuesday night on the DART mission to smash into an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock a speeding space rock off course if one were to threaten Earth. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Credit: Bill Ingalls

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard. NASA launched the spacecraft Tuesday night on the DART mission to smash into an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock a speeding space rock off course if one were to threaten Earth. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)
Caption
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard. NASA launched the spacecraft Tuesday night on the DART mission to smash into an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock a speeding space rock off course if one were to threaten Earth. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Credit: Bill Ingalls

Credit: Bill Ingalls

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

The DART technique could prove useful for altering the course of an asteroid years or decades before it bears down on Earth with the potential for catastrophe.

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A small nudge “would add up to a big change in its future position, and then the asteroid and the Earth wouldn’t be on a collision course,” Chabot said.

Scientists constantly search for asteroids and plot their courses to determine whether they could hit the planet.

Caption
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Credit: Bill Ingalls

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)
Caption
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Credit: Bill Ingalls

Credit: Bill Ingalls

“Although there isn’t a currently known asteroid that’s on an impact course with the Earth, we do know that there is a large population of near-Earth asteroids out there,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA. “The key to planetary defense is finding them well before they are an impact threat.”

DART will take 10 months to reach the asteroid pair. The collision will occur about 6.8 million miles from Earth.

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Ten days beforehand, DART will release a tiny observation spacecraft supplied by 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 make images of the impact site and material that is ejected.