NASA spacecraft will crash into an asteroid on purpose

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Space.com reports on NASA’s wild new mission scheduled for November 23 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. And the launch will be via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. 

The space agency is sending a NASA spacecraft to intentionally crash into an asteroid at 15,000 mph.  

The mission dubbed the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is designed to help develop a defense plan. According to the NASA statement, we are learning how to divert any potentially dangerous asteroids or other objects from crashing into Earth. DART will enable scientists, “evaluation of technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from striking Earth.”

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It will be the first time a kinetic impactor technique will be used. This involves “sending one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an asteroid in space to change its motion. This could deflect the asteroid into a different trajectory, steering it away from the Earth’s orbital path.”

After the NASA spacecraft craft separates from the Falcon, it will cruise space. After over a year of traveling nearly 7 million miles (11 million kilometers), it will reach the mission location.

NASA spacecraft heading to Didymos

The crash target is the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos and its moonlet. A binary asteroid is when two space rocks move in tandem. And a crash here should pose no threat to the Earth. 

Didymos is made up of one larger asteroid with a diameter measuring 2,600 feet. And It moves in tandem with a smaller “moonlet” measuring about 525 feet (160 m) across.

NASA is aiming for the moonlet. And hoping for direct impact to slow its orbit so Earth-based telescopes will be able to do detailed studies of the impact. The plan is for the NASA spacecraft to crash onto the moonlet at an estimated 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h).  And the spacecraft will be annihilated on impact. 

“It will confirm for us what the viability of the kinetic impactor technique is for diverting an asteroid’s orbit and determine that it remains a viable option, at least for smaller-sized asteroids, which are the most frequent impact hazard,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, said earlier this year.

Center for Near-Earth Object Studies

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program is set up at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) in Pasadena, California on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory facility.

CNEOS closely monitors all known near-Earth objects that could come within 1.3 astronomical units which translates to 1.3 times the distance between Earth and the Sun.

So far, 8,000 near-Earth asteroids with a diameter greater than 460 feet are being tracked. And a space rock this large could destroy an entire state if it has a direct hit on the U.S.

None of these objects are currently posing a direct threat to the Earth for decades. But a dangerous near-Earth object will potentially take decades to prepare for.

Live coverage will be streamed on NASA TV. And can also be seen on the NASA app, and on its website.