An asteroid 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth hits Earth in just a few days.
The agency’s long-awaited double asteroid redirection test (dart), if all goes according to plan, the mission will collide with the asteroid moon Dimorphos on Monday (September 26). Launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on November 23, 2021, the DART mission is now flying through deep space to the binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos and its moon Dimorphos.
Managed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL), the mission is the first human attempt to determine whether we can change the course of an asteroid, a feat that may one day be needed to save human civilization. While changing the orbit of an asteroid 7 million miles away sounds daunting, DART team members from NASA and JHUAPL said at a media briefing on Thursday (Sept. 22) that they are confident in the mission. Years of planning in 2019 will lead to success.
related: NASA’s DART asteroid impact mission will be a key test of planetary defense
Traveling at 4.1 miles per second (6.6 km/s) or 14,760 mph (23,760 km/h), the DART spacecraft will smash into the 560-foot-wide (170-meter) Dimorphos, another orbiter orbiting its binary star A member-operated small satellite system, the 2,600-foot-wide (780 m) asteroid Didymos.
NASA believes that doing so would alter Dimorphos’ orbital period enough to alter its gravitational effect on the larger Didymos, and thus alter the pair’s trajectory.
Katherine Calvin, While DART will be a key test of this “kinetic impact” planetary defense strategy, the mission will also yield valuable science that will allow astronomers to peer into the deep history of the solar system, said NASA’s chief scientist and senior climate adviser.
“We’re watching asteroids to make sure we don’t find ourselves in their paths. We also study asteroids to learn more about the formation and history of our solar system. Every time we see an asteroid, we catch it A glimpse into the fossils of the early solar system,” Calvin said.
“These remnants capture the period when planets like Earth were forming,” she added. “As Earth matured, asteroids and other small bodies also delivered water and other ingredients for life to Earth. We are studying these to learn more about the history of our solar system.”
NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said DART marked a turning point in human history.
“This is an exciting time, not just for the space agency, but for space history and human history,” Johnson said at Thursday’s briefing. “Frankly, this is the first time we’ve been able to Proving that not only do we understand the hazards posed by these asteroids and comets left over from the formation of the solar system, but we also have technology that can deflect an inbound impact on Earth from a course. So this demonstration is very important for our future.”
That sentiment was echoed by NASA’s DART project scientist Tom Statler. “The first test is to test our ability to build an autonomously navigating spacecraft that will actually achieve a kinetic shock to an asteroid. The second test is to test how an actual asteroid responds to a kinetic shock,” Statler said. . “Because, at the end of the day, the real question is: How do we efficiently move asteroids, and if we need to, is this kinetic impact technology usable in the future?”
read more: DART asteroid mission: NASA’s first planetary defense spacecraft
The results of the DART mission on Monday (September 26) will certainly help answer that question, with many DART team members expressing their confidence in the mission during the briefing.Edward Reynolds, When the time comes, the spacecraft will be ready to smash itself on the surface of Dimorphos, says JHUAPL’s DART program manager.
“All we can say right now is that all the subsystems on the spacecraft are green, they’re healthy, they’re performing well. We have enough propellant, we have enough power,” Reynolds said. “We’ve been doing a bunch of rehearsals, some of which are very nominal.”
“At this point, I can say the team is ready,” Reynolds added. “The ground systems are ready and the spacecraft is healthy and expected to hit on Monday.”
Engineers on the DART team are taking a closer look at the spacecraft’s trajectory in the days ahead of the impact, which should occur at 7:14 p.m. ET (2314 GMT) on Monday (September 26). Elena Adams, a DART mission systems engineer at JHUAPL, said the team is still making sure the impactor spacecraft is functioning properly.
“We’re actually still doing some trajectory correction operations over the next few days to make sure we hit the asteroid on the right path,” Adams said. “We rehearse a lot. But when we get to the cruise phase, we update the parameters in the spacecraft to make sure we can actually hit the asteroid. So over the past few days, we’ll update those parameters; we’ll do Check, e.g. stream the image back to Earth. “
“So over the next few days, we’ll take more images of the Didymos system, we’ll do trajectory correction exercises, and then 24 hours before impact, everything is on deck,” she added.
Adams said the team has 21 contingency measures if DART’s Small Body Maneuvering Autonomous Real-Time Navigation (Smart Nav) system determines that the spacecraft is off course. “We’ve planned everything and we’re ready to intervene. We’ve been rehearsing for a long time.”
The 21st event planned by the team was the survival of DART. If DART misses Dimorphos, Adams said, the team will immediately begin processing the data collected by the spacecraft and plan for possible collisions with other objects.
“We’re going to get back in our seats, and if it’s lost, we’re going to start keeping all the data on the ship. After that we’re going to have time to use our deep space network to be able to actually get all this data down,” Adams said. “Then we’ll start saving the propellant and we’ll start looking for [other] The object to return. “
In response to a question from Space.com about any flight tests the team has conducted, Adams referred to a recent set of images from the DART spacecraft’s DRACO camera Jupiter and its four major Galilean moonsThe DART team captured these images to “trick” the DART spacecraft’s SMART Nav system in order to test its tracking capabilities.
“We actually saw Europa exit behind Jupiter. We tricked our smart navigation into thinking Jupiter was Didymos and Europa was Dimorphos, and we actually saw the separation happen,” Adams said.
That’s important, she added, “because in the last four hours of our final phase, when the spacecraft is fully autonomous, we’re going to see Dimorphos emerge from behind Didymos. So, we’ve trained the system to do that in flight. That. So we’re looking forward to it. I think we can do it.”
Statler reiterated that confidence, adding that while this type of mission was once a fantasy, the DART team believes we now have the tools and knowledge to execute a successful planetary defense mission.
“We’re moving an asteroid. We’re changing the motion of natural objects in space,” Statler said. “Humans have never done this before. It’s something out of science fiction, and a very corny episode of Star Trek when I was a kid. Now it’s real. It’s kind of surprising that we’re actually doing it. And what this bodes well for the future: what we can do, and our discussion of what humans should do.
“It opens up an amazing frontier,” he added. “It’s very exciting.”