NASA’s DART spacecraft was delivered to SpaceX last month. The device is designed to observe and deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. This is the first of its kind, and it will be a part of NASA’s Planetary Defense System when it launches in 2022.
NASA’s DART spacecraft uses a technology called gravity tractor. The device will use the moon’s gravitational field to deftly nudge an asteroid off its collision course with Earth every two weeks, NASA said in a statement .
The observation takes place via laser ranging instrumentation that precisely measures the distance between the spacecraft and asteroid over time. All of the data collected during this process is sent back to DART’s mission lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. If a closer look is needed, DART will alter its orbit and point its instruments for detailed observations.
DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique – striking the asteroid to shift its orbit – to defend against a potential future asteroid impact, said Andy Cheng, DART investigation co-lead at Goddard.
This is also the first time NASA has sent an interplanetary mission to be implemented and tested by a private space company. SpaceX will provide engineering support, as well as the launch vehicle and the ride to space for DART spacecraft.
SpaceX is proud to be playing a role in this historic mission, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX said . This work represents an important step in the process toward enabling the NASA’s ability to respond quickly and effectively in the event of an asteroid threat.
If all goes smoothly, DART will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket in October 2020 to intercept the asteroid called Didymos.
Didymoon is the moon orbiting the body of Didymos, which itself will make a fly-by of our planet in 2022. The size of both objects are about 650 meters across, but DART won’t land on either one. It’ll aim for Didymoon’s surface, which is 2 meters wide.
NASA also said DART will be the first time a device of this kind has been tested on an asteroid that does not pose any danger to Earth or our space endeavors. The asteroid fly-by in 2022 provides a prime opportunity for a dry run at deflecting Earth’s asteroid threats.