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NASA, SpaceX Successfully Launch Asteroid Deflector Test Mission

NASA, SpaceX Successfully Launch Asteroid Deflector Test Mission

DART mission will arrive at asteroid in the fall of 2022.

In October, I reported that The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would launch a test mission to nudge an asteroid’s moon in a test to see if asteroid deflection is possible to protect our planet. The experiment is called the “Double Asteroid Redirection Test.”

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the experimental system onboard successfully launched on Wednesday from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

At 2:17 a.m., DART separated from the second stage of the rocket. Minutes later, mission operators received the first spacecraft telemetry data and started the process of orienting the spacecraft to a safe position for deploying its solar arrays. About two hours later, the spacecraft completed the successful unfurling of its two, 28-foot-long, roll-out solar arrays. They will power both the spacecraft and NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial ion engine, one of several technologies being tested on DART for future application on space missions.

…DART’s one-way trip is to the Didymos asteroid system, which comprises a pair of asteroids. DART’s target is the moonlet, Dimorphos, which is approximately 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter. The moonlet orbits Didymos, which is approximately 2,560 feet (780 meters) in diameter.

Since Dimorphos orbits Didymos at much a slower relative speed than the pair orbits the Sun, the result of DART’s kinetic impact within the binary system can be measured much more easily than a change in the orbit of a single asteroid around the Sun.

The mission results from a 2005 congressional directive, assigning NASA a role in security…albeit on a planetary scale.

The $324 million DART mission is unusual for NASA, a civilian agency that focuses mainly on exploration, climate monitoring and hunting for signs of past life in our solar system. While it coordinates with and relies on the U.S. Department of Defense for some activities, NASA has not traditionally been responsible for leading efforts to protect the United States — or Earth, for that matter — from any security threat.

That changed in 2005, when Congress assigned the agency the imperative of protecting the planet from dangerous objects that orbit the sun and have the bad habit of occasionally crossing paths with our world. That includes tracking tens of thousands of so-called near-Earth asteroids large enough to wreak catastrophic damage. Lawmakers assigned NASA the task of cataloging 90 percent of the total expected amount of these space rocks, but it has missed that goal.

“You’ve got to find them before you can get them, and you want to find them early,” said Kelly Fast, who manages NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, the agency’s effort to keep an eye on all nearby asteroids that are bigger than a football stadium. “You want to find these things years or decades in advance.

And while DART won’t reach the test asteroid until late September or early October of 2022, there will still be much activity during the trip over.

…DART is now in the commissioning period, a 30-day stretch just after liftoff in which mission team members are checking out the spacecraft’s various systems and its main scientific instrument, a camera called DRACO (“Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation”).

And DRACO will open its eyes soon, if all goes according to plan.

“We’re going to open the DRACO doors and … take [our] first pictures about eight days in,” Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, said during a pre-launch news conference on Nov. 4.
Another big moment will come about 20 days into flight, Adams said, when the DART team fires up NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster-Commercial (NEXT-C) engine, which was developed by the agency’s Glenn Research Center and the aerospace company Aerojet Rocketdyne.

NEXT-C is a solar-powered ion propulsion system that could find its way onto future spacecraft. It’s not DART’s primary propulsion system — the probe is using a set of 12 hydrazine thrusters to make its way toward the Didymos-Dimorphos pair — but NEXT-C will get a key in-space test during the mission.

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Comments

Very cool, just like the movie

    Hopefully not. I cringe every time I see that movie and its Hollywood “science”. Unless there is a massive leap in technology, then if a Texas-sized asteroid really was going to hit the Earth we would be seriously screwed.

    (I assume you mean the movie “Armageddon”. The other movie, “Deep Impact”, was so corny and maudlin that I was cheering for the comet. At least “Armageddon” had its funny moments!)

    JohnSmith100 in reply to gonzotx. | November 26, 2021 at 7:39 pm

    A deflection towards Iran would make a good example.

NASA has successfully launched an astroid deflector? So what. The news media has done better than that. They launched a truth deflector years ago. It has worked so well that the Biden Administration uses it on a daily basis.

Very nice – just the sort of thing we want NASA to be working on.

Something to remember – if you detect an object far enough away, it can be deflected with a relatively small nudge.

    JohnSmith100 in reply to Bob. | November 26, 2021 at 7:41 pm

    But think about the complexity of the calculations.

    stevewhitemd in reply to Bob. | November 26, 2021 at 8:26 pm

    I agree completely. Some other missions NASA could work on with today’s technology that wouldn’t break the bank —

    — capturing a small asteroid and returning it to high Earth orbit as a demonstrator of how to bring metal-rich asteroids back for use

    — using that captured, then hollowed-out asteroid as an impervious, large space station in Earth orbit

    — orbiting a demonstrator space-based solar power collecting system, and building a corresponding collecting station on Earth (the Cal Tech project would do nicely)

“”The $324 million DART mission is unusual for NASA, a civilian agency that focuses mainly on exploration, climate monitoring and hunting for signs of past life in our solar system.””

You forgot Muslim outreach.

Sounds racist to me, mabe we should offer Martians reparations.

I dunno, if leftists are gonna be running the world, I may be rooting for SMOD.

NASA has not traditionally been responsible for leading efforts to protect the United States — or Earth, for that matter — from any security threat.

Which has always been the problem. The government has no business spending any taxpayer money on “exploration, climate monitoring and hunting for signs of past life”. This is as least related to the defense of the republic.

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