Star Wars, Actually! NASA to launch Earth’s first defense test mission against asteroids on November 23; Details

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Updated: November 06, 2021 8:10 PM

The DART mission would be the first planetary defence test mission to be carried out by any space agency in the world, and its aim is a small moonlet asteroid called Dimorphos.

DART has been built over the last one and a half years, the agency said. (Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman)

Hazardous Asteroids: US space agency NASA is all set to launch its planetary defense test mission – the first one to be carried out yet. The mission is called Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART and it will be launched on November 23. Giving an update on the mission, NASA said that the team has filled the spacecraft with fuel and many of the final tests have also been carried out. Now, the team is running rehearsals for the mission. To give a little context, scientists have been worried about hazardous asteroids that might collide with Earth and result in a fate similar to what the dinosaurs had seen millions of years ago. Hence, many solutions have been proposed over the years to protect the Earth from such hazardous asteroids. The front-runner among these solutions is the physical deflection of the asteroids to slightly alter their paths so that they do not collide with the Earth.

Now, NASA is preparing to launch the first test mission towards that end goal. The DART mission would be the first planetary defence test mission to be carried out by any space agency in the world, and its aim is a small moonlet asteroid called Dimorphos. This asteroid orbits a larger asteroid – Didymos. While Dimorphos is not hazardous and does not pose any threat to the Earth, the mission is only aiming to test if DART spacecraft would be enough to autonomously reach a target asteroid and impact it kinetically.

The space agency would then use telescopes based on the Earth to measure how the impact would affect the asteroid system. Using this data, the agency would be able to enhance modelling as well as the predicting capabilities so that the scientists are better prepared in case they discover any actual asteroid posing a threat to the Earth.

DART has been built over the last one and a half years, the agency said, while following due COVID protocol, and many technologies have been fitted on the spacecraft for testing, including NASA’s NEXT-C ion propulsion system that is said to improve performance as well as fuel efficiency for deep space missions.

The mission would be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and for this, the DART was taken to the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility near California’s Lompoc on October 26.

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