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NASA’s DART is set to crash into an asteroid, on purpose

In November 2021, NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) robotic spaceship took off into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, on a mission to intercept and change the orbit of an asteroid. Now it’s time to see the mission in action.

The $325 million spacecraft has traveled 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth since November and Monday, September 26will attempt its aim to crash into Dimorphica small asteroid orbiting a second, larger piece of space rock, didymusas the pair travel in an elliptical orbit around the sun.

While there was never any threat of Dimorphos hitting Earth, it does provide a safe target for testing technology that could one day help protect Earth from a catastrophic collision with a killer asteroid, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and 75 percent of the planet. percent of plant and animal life 66 million years ago.

When it reaches Dimorphos on Monday, DART will slam into the space rock at a speed of about 4.1 miles (6.6 kilometers) per second, hopefully giving the asteroid enough of a jolt to alter its orbit around its companion, just slightly, but enough that the alteration can be observed by telescopes on Earth.

“It’s a tough job,” Julie Bellerose of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). said in a press release. He directs the navigation team for JPL’s DART spacecraft. “A big part of what the navigation team is working on is getting DART into a 9-mile-wide (15-kilometre-wide) box in space 24 hours before impact.” Then, Bellerose said, the mission’s final trajectory correction maneuver will be executed by mission control on Earth. From then on, everything else is up to DART.

“DART is a test of the effectiveness of the kinetic impactor technique to alter the orbital path of an asteroid, and from the spacecraft technology used to launch a kinetic impactor at the target asteroid.” Lindley JohnsonNASA’s planetary defense officer, explains via email.

Here are five things to know about DART.

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