Do you know why NASA smashed a spacecraft onto an asteroid millions of miles away? Here’s everything about NASA’s DART mission.
After months of anticipation, NASA finally conducted its first planetary defense test on Sept. 26 at 7:14 p.m. EDT by smashing its spacecraft into an asteroid millions of miles away. Now, asteroids are mostly found orbiting the sun in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter. NASA said its target asteroid posed no risk to Earth at all. Then why did the space agency spend hundreds of millions of dollars crashing a spacecraft into the asteroid? What is NASA’s DART mission and what does the space agency want to achieve by colliding its spacecraft with a space rock?
NASA’s DART mission
You may be wondering what would happen if one of the asteroids, which come close to Earth every day, hit our planet one day. Well, NASA has already prepared for that. NASA’s DART mission is a plan to potentially defend the planet from a very similar threat posed by asteroids.
NASA’s DART mission is a nearly $330 million first step to protect the planet from potential asteroid impact. The purpose of the Double Asteroid Detection Test, or DART test, was to slam a spacecraft into the Dimorphos asteroid to divert it from its path. In fact, two asteroids are involved. According to NASA, Dimorphos is an asteroid moon a staggering 530 feet wide, orbiting a much larger asteroid called Didymos. It’s a monster, almost 5 times its size.
Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) along with Small-body Maneuver Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) algorithms aboard the DART spacecraft enabled it to distinguish between the larger Didymos and its target Dimorphos , and hit the asteroid with precision, according to NASA.
While this asteroid did not threaten Earth in any way, this was an experiment to gain more knowledge about what happens when a spacecraft crashes into a space rock. This knowledge will be used if a real asteroid threatens to crash into Earth. It will help prevent an Armageddon on Earth and maybe even save humanity from extinction.
How was the collision recorded?
NASA’s first planetary defense attempt was captured by cameras from a small companion satellite that ejected from the DART spacecraft and tracked it, 3 minutes behind, to the target asteroid Dimorphos. The spacecraft’s camera is called cubeSAT LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids). The cubeSAT consists of two major components, LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) and LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid), both of which capture important data from the collision.
Was the mission successful?
Although the asteroid collision was successful, it is not yet clear whether the asteroid actually deflected. For that, we have to wait the coming weeks and check the data. That work has been assigned to a number of other technologically powerful spacecraft sent to the site to track the asteroid, including by the European Space Agency.
The European Space Agency’s Hera spacecraft will observe the impact caused by the collision of the DART spacecraft and the Dimorphos asteroid. The space agency has already launched its Hera spacecraft that will travel to the same asteroid to observe the impact. According to ESA’s blog, the Hera spacecraft will fly to the asteroid to investigate the aftermath of the impact and collect information such as the size of the impact crater, the mass of the asteroid and its composition and internal structure.