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NASA Set To Collide Spaceship Into Asteroid To ‘Knock It Off Course

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are working together on a project (DART) that could one day save our planet from an impending comet or asteroid strike. Both space agencies expect to have their first test spacecraft’s launch-ready by 2022 and will see how their spacecraft perform by trying to move a non-threatening space object in an experimental mission.

Speaking about the ‘futuristic’ project, Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said:
“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique—striking the asteroid to shift its orbit—to defend against a potential future asteroid impact. This approval step advances the project toward a historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer in Washington, in the press release.
Artist concept of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft. DART, which is moving to the preliminary design phase, would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense.

NASA and ESA are targeting a test asteroid system referred to as Didymos said the news brief. Didymos—which stands for twin in Greek—is a binary asteroid system composed of two asteroids orbiting each other.

In 2022, when Didymos will make its closest approach near Earth, NASA and ESA will launch a spacecraft towards the asteroid. Prior to the collision, the DART spacecraft will travel at around 4 miles per second, after which it will impact the asteroid (Didymos B—which has around 160 meters in length) and hopefully set it off course.

The news brief states that:

“The kinetic impact technique works by changing the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity, but by doing it well before the predicted impact so that this small nudge will add up over time to a big shift of the asteroid’s path away from Earth.”

On Earth, astronomers will carefully study the impact and what effect it will have on the asteroid. In order to conclude whether or not DART is a feasible and effective option for setting potentially hazardous asteroids off course.

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact. Since we don’t know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid. With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet.” said Andy Cheng, who is co-leading the DART investigation at APL along with Andy Rivkin.

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