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DART mission, NASA. The DART mission begins tomorrow. Its goal is to change the orbit of the asteroid Didymos

DART mission, NASA.  The DART mission begins tomorrow.  Its goal is to change the orbit of the asteroid Didymos

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission begins on Wednesday. Its goal is to attempt to alter the asteroid’s path as part of NASA’s Planetary Defense Program. The probe is set to collide with the satellite of the asteroid Didymos, changing its course by a fraction of a percentage.

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If all goes as planned, the DART spacecraft will be launched into space with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 22.21 CEST on Tuesday (7.21 DST) from Vandenberg, California. It will make a ten-month journey to the double asteroid Didymos, which is 11 million kilometers away.

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The purpose of the DART مهمة mission

The target of the mission is the asteroid Didymos, an object classified as a near-Earth asteroid. It has a diameter of about 780 meters. Its solar orbit is exactly two years, 40 days and five hours. It’s a binary asteroid – Didymos has its own natural satellite called Demorphos. Didymus’ moon is also not very large, with a diameter of 160 meters. Moreover, the asteroid, along with the Moon, is included in the PHA group, i.e., potentially dangerous asteroids.

Although the asteroid does not pose a threat to Earth, Demorphos will serve as an experimental object to demonstrate that the course of a celestial body can be altered by a deliberate collision with a spacecraft. The 633-kilogram probe is expected to collide in late September 2022 at a speed of 23.7 thousand kilometers per hour. For most of the mission, the spacecraft will be controlled from Earth, but during the final four hours of flight, the autonomous control system built by NASA will “target” the asteroid.

The collision will change orbit by a fraction of a percentage

According to NASA’s predictions, the effect of DART on Demorphos will change its orbit around Didymus by a fraction of a percentage. This is to increase the time it takes Demorphos to orbit Didymus by 10 minutes (currently 11 hours 55 minutes). The effect can be observed using telescopes located on the ground. The collision will be recorded by the LICIA Cube satellite set up by the Italian Space Agency. In the following years, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) HERA mission will monitor the impact of the collision.

DART will be the first spacecraft to test NASA’s new NEXT-C ion engine in space, which is powered by solar energy. The time to deviate from the asteroid’s path is when it is as far from Earth as possible. Lindley Johnson, head of NASA’s Planetary Defense Program, said at a press conference that the farther away, the less force needed to change its orbit clearly enough to pass us rather than crash into Earth.

Johnson announced that the DART mission will be the first of many tests planned to defend Earth against asteroids. In addition to trying to change course by hitting an asteroid, the agency also wants to test the “Gravity” method. It consists in placing a spacecraft, for a long time, near an object, which is supposed to deflect its orbit by the force of attraction.

While none of the asteroids identified so far pose a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, many objects remain to be observed. NASA estimates that about 90 percent of asteroids larger than one kilometer in diameter have been discovered, but only about 40 percent of smaller asteroids have been discovered. Meanwhile, an asteroid with a height of only 150 meters will destroy a large city and cause far-reaching effects that can be felt over a large area.

Main image source: PAP / EPA / NASA / JOHNS HOPKINS APL HANDOUT

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