The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) experiment was launched by SpaceX from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
NASA has launched the world’s first mission to test asteroid-deflecting technology by crashing a spacecraft with an asteroid. The space probe will smash with the asteroid, changing its speed and path.
The space agency tweeted today, “Asteroid Dimorphos: we’re coming for you!” along with a video of the launch.
According to NASA TV’s webcast, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) experiment took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base near California at 10:21 p.m. Pacific Time.
The purpose is to slightly change Dimorphos’ trajectory, a “moonlet” measuring 525 feet (160 meters, or two Statues of Liberty) in diameter that rounds a much larger asteroid known as Didymos (2,500 feet in diameter). They have the same orbit around the Sun.
The binary asteroid system will collide in the fall of 2022 when it will be 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometres) from Earth, the closest they will ever get.
The goal is to see if the technology is capable of dealing with a true asteroid impact hazard in the future.
According to NASA, DART’s target asteroid is not now a threat to Earth. However, the asteroid is part of a group of objects known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), which come within 30 million miles of Earth.
“What we’re attempting to learn is how to deflect a danger,” NASA’s chief scientist Thomas Zuburchen said of the $330 million studies, which is the first of its type, to news agency AFP.
The spacecraft, which is having weighs 1,344 pounds and is 59 feet across, will hit head-on with Dimorphos at a speed of roughly 15,000 mph.
NASA said on its website that after DART’s kinetic hit with its target asteroid, an investigative team would use telescopes on Earth to see how much the impact impacted the asteroid’s speed in space.
Larger than 460 feet in diameter, which have the ability to level entire cities or areas with lots of times the energy of average nuclear bombs, are of particular interest to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
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