NASA will slam spacecraft into asteroid to test humankind's defenses
NASA has launched a spacecraft on a direct collision course with an asteroid, intentionally. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission intends to test technologies for defense against potential asteroid collisions. DART's target is a secondary asteroid, called Dimorphos, orbiting a larger asteroid, Didymos. However, it isn't an imminent threat to Earth. Here are more details.
Why does this story matter?
To date, asteroids in space have posed an existential threat to humans. While no asteroid larger than 140 meters across has a chance of hitting Earth in the next 100 years, only 40% of these giant celestial orbs have been found. Additionally, systems to disintegrate matter from space entering the atmosphere are also required to tackle space debris that will eventually re-enter Earth's atmosphere.
DART will hit the asteroid at 6.6 km/s
NASA claims that DART is a defense-driven technology test to safeguard Earth from hazardous asteroids. The mission is managed under the agency's Solar System Exploration Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center. DART will autonomously find its target using an onboard camera and navigate there. It will then collide with its target, Dimorphos, at a speed of around 6.6 km/s.
DART is a proof of concept, won't destroy its target
NASA estimates that the collision will change the speed at which Dimorphos is orbiting Didymos by a fraction of 1%. That might seem like a trivial result for a million-dollar space probe that will obliterate itself to achieve the result. However, NASA says the collision will cause Dimorphos's orbital period to change by several minutes—long enough to be observed and measured from Earth.
NASA streamed DART mission live on YouTube
NASA had provided live coverage of the DART Mission from 11:00 am IST on November 24. Strapped to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, DART launched from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Once in space, it will deploy Roll-Out Solar Arrays and use a solar-powered electric propulsion system to reach its target. The spacecraft will intercept the target asteroid in September 2022.