Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images
The POT successfully launched a spaceship that will hit an acetheroid 11 million miles from Earth next year,
The mission called “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” (DART), which involves teams from NASA and the European Space Agency, will test a series of technological maneuvers to prevent the impact of an asteroid against Earth.
The spacecraft was launched on Wednesday, November 24, at 10:21 p.m. PT, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
The success of the mission could pave the way for a new planetary defense system that can deflect incoming asteroids before impact.
The plan mirrors the plot of the Hollywood blockbuster “Armageddon,” in which NASA flies a spacecraft into an asteroid to prevent it from hitting Earth.
“DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space,” NASA noted on its website.
The 1,200-pound, refrigerator-sized DART spacecraft flanked by two 18-meter-long solar panels will travel around the sun to crash into a small asteroid called Dimorphos at 15,000 miles per hour next year.
If the mission is successful, it could demonstrate for the first time humanity’s ability to drive a potentially dangerous asteroid away from Earth.
The DART space probe will visit Dimorphos and another asteroid, Didymos, in September or October 2022.
It is expected that the impact takes place between September 26 and October 1 of next year.
The two asteroids, called the binary system, orbit the sun every two years along an egg-shaped path that stretches close to Mars and returns close to Earth.
Dimorphos is the smallest of the pair, orbiting Didymos like a moon at a distance of about a mile and completing one revolution of the larger rock every 11 hours and 55 minutes.
Dimorphos, similar in size to one of the Giza pyramids, is not a threat to Earth.
After DART crashes into its target, NASA and ESA telescopes on Earth will study it closely to see if the scheme has worked.
A tiny cubesat launched in conjunction with the mission will collect data before, during and after impact.
“The DART spacecraft will achieve deflection from the kinetic impact by deliberately colliding with Dimorphos at a speed of approximately 6.6 kilometers per second, with the help of an onboard camera (called DRACO) and sophisticated autonomous navigation software,” NASA explained.
“The collision will change the speed of the moon in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent.
“This will change the moon’s orbital period by several minutes, enough to be observed and measured with telescopes on Earth.”
Space experts have already identified at least 26,000 of the so-called “near-Earth objects.”
It is estimated that 4,700 of them meet the classification of “Potentially Dangerous Objects” determined by NASA.
That means they are over 500 feet wide, pass 4.7 million miles from Earth, and would cause devastating damage if they hit it.