NASA's DART mission launches to crash into killer asteroid and defend Earth

Because Dimorphos is such a small space rock, DART will have to hit the nail on the head when the asteroid system reaches its closest poi...


Because Dimorphos is such a small space rock, DART will have to hit the nail on the head when the asteroid system reaches its closest point to Earth along its orbit around the sun, some 6.8 million kilometers away. It’s a complex orbital choreography involving precise launch time off Earth and intermittent fire from a dozen tiny onboard thrusters that will fine-tune DART’s trajectory to collide with Dimorphos.

“From a technical standpoint, it’s really difficult,” said Andy Rivkin, head of the DART investigation team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which manages the mission. DART’s single shot to strike Dimorphos will be based on a fully automated process that begins four hours before impact and uses an on-board navigation system called SMART Nav.

“They had to create an algorithm that does it all on their own; there is no joystick in it, ”he said.

Tom Statler, a scientist in the DART program at NASA, agreed.

“In a way, DART is pretty straightforward. There is only one instrument on board, ”he said, referring to the spacecraft’s camera. “But on the other hand, the navigation accuracy is really beyond what we’ve done before.”

Ten days before impact, DART will deploy a small satellite built by the Italian space agency called LICIACube, which carries two cameras. This travel companion will witness DART’s self-destruct mission from a distance of 34 miles and measure the amount of debris raised by the impact. The DART spacecraft’s on-board camera, called DRACO, will take pictures of the asteroid as it approaches, relaying them back to Earth up to 20 seconds before impact.

To test whether DART was successful, scientists from NASA and the Applied Physics Laboratory will measure how much Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos changes after the spacecraft’s impact. For ground-based telescopes, asteroids are tiny points of light. After impact, scientists will follow the duration of Dimorphos’ orbit by measuring the time between flickers of reflected light that signal that Dimorphos crossed in front of Didymos and then passed behind him half an orbit later.

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Newsrust - US Top News: NASA's DART mission launches to crash into killer asteroid and defend Earth
NASA's DART mission launches to crash into killer asteroid and defend Earth
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