NASA has recently announced that SpaceX has won a contract for the space agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.
The mission, which will cost a total of $69 million, will see DART launched on board a Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandernberg Air Force Base in California, sometime in June 2021. Later on, in October 2022, the spacecraft will slam directly into the secondary body that orbits the Didymos asteroid, affectionately known as the ‘Didymoon’.
The impact will be watched by the telescopes on Earth and the astronomers and scientists will be documenting how the collision affects the Didymoon. This documentation will subsequently serve as a basis for the assessment of the ‘kinetic impactor‘.
The kinetic impactor will allow us to send one or more high speed spacecraft into an approaching near-earth object which, in turn would push the asteroid onto a different trajectory and move it away from the orbital path of our planet years or even decades before they become a threat.
The estimates from the mission managers expect DART to shift Didymoon’s orbit by 1%. While it sounds like a small shift, the telescopes on Earth should still be, theoretically, able to measure it.
Didymoon is around seven million times heavier than DART, standing at a mass of approximately 3.5 million metric tons (7.6 billion pounds) but DART’s little ‘boop’ should be enough to make a difference.
An Italian cubesat dubbed LICIACube will also be backpacking for the ride. The cubesat will deploy two days before impact to snap high-quality photos of the before and after as well as gather some important scientific data.