By Peter Barker
NASA will provide prelaunch and launch coverage of the agency’s first planetary defense test mission to help determine if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course.
“Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft will lift off on a ten-month journey to crash into a distant asteroid — on purpose,” the U.S. space agency said in a statement, with the mission scheduled to launch no earlier than 1:20 a.m. EST Nov. 24 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
“As a test of NASA’s planetary defense technologies, DART will collide with and slightly change the speed of Dimorphos, a small ‘moonlet’ orbiting the asteroid Didymosl,” the NASA statement said.
“Dimorphos (Greek for two forms) will be over 6 million miles away at the time of impact and does not pose a threat to Earth, either before or after DART’s collision.”
The Didymos system is the ideal candidate for DART because it poses no actual impact threat to Earth, and scientists can measure the change in Dimorphos’ orbit with ground-based telescopes, NASA said.
NASA said that it and its international partners will track DART’s effect on Dimorphos and “use this data to help protect Earth from future asteroid impact threats.”
Members of the public can register to attend the launch virtually. NASA’s virtual guest program for DART includes curated launch resources, a behind-the-scenes look at the mission and the opportunity to obtain a virtual guest passport stamp.
“While no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years, only about 40 percent of those asteroids have been found as of October 2021,” NASA said in a statement.
The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has been directed to manage the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office.
The agency provides support for the mission from several centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Johnson Space Center in Houston, Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
The launch will be managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Edited by Richard Pretorius and Kristen Butler
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