After 10 months in space NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – – the first demonstration of defense technology for planets was able to successfully impact its Asteroid target on Monday, the first time the agency has tried to propel an asteroid through space.
The mission control team in the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) located in Laurel, Maryland, announced the impact was successful in the 7th hour at 7:14 p.m. EDT.
As component of NASA’s overall defence strategy, DART’s collision on the comet Dimorphos is a proven mitigation method to safeguard the Earth from an earth-bound comet or asteroid, should one was discovered.
“At the heart, DART represents an unprecedented achievement in the field of planetary defense but it’s also a project of unity which is a huge benefit to all of humanity,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “As NASA studies the cosmos and our planet we also strive to safeguard our home. This international collaboration transformed science fiction into reality and demonstrated a way to safeguard Earth.”
DART focused on the moonlet of the asteroid Dimorphos, a tiny body that is only 560 feet (160 meters) in the diameter. It orbits a bigger, 2,560-foot (780-meter) spacecraft called Didymos. The asteroid is not an imminent danger to Earth.
The mission’s one-way journey proved NASA is able to successfully steer the spacecraft to deliberately collide with an asteroid and avoid it, a process called Kinetic impact.
The team of investigators will examine Dimorphos with ground-based telescopes in order to determine if the DART impact changed the orbit of the asteroid around Didymos. The impact is expected to reduce Dimorphos orbit by approximately 1percent, which is roughly 10 minutes. Accurately determining the amount the asteroid affected is one of the primary goals of the full-scale experiment.
“Planetary Defence is a global uniting effort that impacts all people here on Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now we are able to target a spacecraft with the accuracy required to strike even a tiny body in space. Only a slight shift in the speed of its movement is all that is needed to make a major change in the direction an asteroid takes.”
The spacecraft’s only instrument is the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera to Optical Navigation (DRACO) along with an advanced guidance and control system, as well as navigation which works in conjunction and small-body maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) algorithms that allow DART to recognize and differentiate between two asteroids, and target the smaller body.
The system directed this 1,260-pound (570-kilogram) rectangular spacecraft across the last 56,000-miles (90,000 km) of space to Dimorphos and then deliberately crashed into it with a speed of around 14000 miles (22,530 kilometers) per hour in order to slow the speed of the asteroid’s orbit. The final images of DRACO, taken by the spacecraft a few seconds before hitting, showed Dimorphos’s surface Dimorphos in sharp detail.
About 15 days before the collision the DART CubeSat partner Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) is a satellite offered through the Italian Space Agency, deployed from the spacecraft in order to record images of the DART impact and the resulting cloud of debris. Alongside the images gathered by DRACO the images of LICIACube are designed to give an overview of the impact’s effects and assist researchers to better understand the efficacy of kinetic impacts in the deflecting of an Asteroid. Since LICIACube isn’t equipped with a massive antenna, the images will be transmitted to Earth one at a time in the next few weeks.
“DART’s success is an important enhancement to the toolbox we require to defend Earth from the devastating impact caused by an asteroid.” stated Lindley Johnson the planetary Defense Officer. “This shows that we’re no longer in a position to stop this kind of natural disaster. With enhanced capabilities to find the remaining dangerous asteroid population through the future Planetary Defense mission, the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor is an DART successor may provide the information we require to keep the day going.”
As the pair of asteroid being within the 7 million mile (11 millions kilometers) of Earth A global team employs a variety of telescopes scattered throughout the world and in space to study the Asteroid System. In the coming months, they will study the ejecta that is produced and determine the Dimorphos orbital shift to assess how efficiently DART affected the asteroid. The results will be used to validate and improve computer models for scientific research crucial to determine the efficacy of this method as a reliable method of deflecting asteroid.
“This unique mission required a lot of effort and accuracy and the team surpassed expectations on every level,” said APL Director Ralph Semmel. “Beyond the incredibly exciting outcome of the demonstration of technology DART’s capabilities could be utilized in the future to alter the trajectory of an asteroid in order to safeguard our planet and ensure the survival of the life in Earth as we have it today.”
About four years from now The Hera project of the European Space Agency Hera project will conduct thorough studies of Dimorphos and Didymos and Didymos, with a special attention paid to the crater caused by the collision of DART and an exact measurement of Dimorphos mass.
Johns Hopkins APL manages the DART mission of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as an initiative of NASA’s Planetary Missions Program Office.