This image of light from the asteroid Didymos and its orbiting moon Dimorphos is a composite of 243 images taken by the Didymos Optical Navigation Asteroid Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera (DRACO) on July 27, 2022

NASA team believes it will successfully kill its DART spacecraft after asteroid collision

Often associated with bad news, hearing the term “signal loss” will be a reason to celebrate for the team behind NASA’s DART spacecraft, which is scheduled to hit an asteroid on Monday.

Most NASA spacecraft last for years or even decades, but the double asteroid redirection test mission did not. This space robot is dating death.

NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson told reporters on Thursday that he was “very confident” the Dart would hit its target and be successful.

After launching with SpaceX last fall, the device-sized spacecraft has been chasing the two-star asteroid system Didymos to test a game plan to save Earth when a giant space rock headed toward our planet. The method, known as the kinetic impactor theory, involves using the DART as a battering ram at 15,000 mph into the moonlit Dimorphos, which is orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos.

Images from asteroid-smashing Dart mission expected to be ‘stunning’

Elena Adams, a DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who manages the mission for NASA, explained that about four hours before impact, DART will work autonomously to navigate to the destination.

Using a relative navigation system called SMART Nav, DART will hone the Didymos about an hour before impact, and then slowly, the smaller Dimorphos will come into focus. The spacecraft will send back images at a rate of about one image per second.

“You’ll hear us say, ‘We’re precision lock-on, which means we start ignoring Didymos now, we’re going to Dimorphos…and then two and a half minutes before impact the smart NAV…will turn off and we’re just going to point the camera and shoot The most stunning pictures of this asteroid we will ever see for the first time,” Adams said.

Dimorphos, only about 530 feet wide, were not fully focused and sharp until just before impact. The final image will be taken about 2.5 seconds before DART flies into the asteroid. Due to the 8-second delay from the DART signal to Earth, the photo will continue through the mission operations center in Maryland.

While DART will send back images until the end, its companion star, a small Italian cubesat called LICIACube, will fly past the asteroid and continue to send back photos in the days and months after impact . The James Webb Space Telescope, ground-based observatories and other spacecraft will also be able to observe the asteroid impact from a distance.

Although it’s never done this before, NSA DART scientist Tom Statler said that because of NASA and Japan Space Agency missions to other asteroids, when you ram a spacecraft into an asteroid, the team has a pretty good idea of ​​what to expect.

“There’s a reason we know DART is going to be blocked by Dimorphos,” Statler said. “The density of a DART spacecraft is actually not much different from that of an asteroid. So there’s no question that DART will encounter a whole bunch of stuff that can’t be avoided.”

DART doesn’t change Didymos’ orbit. It is designed to change the speed of the small moon Dimorphos by a small percentage.

“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 the stuff of science fiction.”

Why ‘Doomsday’ episodes aren’t Earth’s best defense against asteroids

DART program manager Edward Reynolds said he didn’t lose sleep over the impending impact because the team has simulated and tested the spacecraft’s navigation since launch, but that doesn’t mean a 14,000 mph impact An asteroid with a diameter of 100 meters is not a difficult task.

“We do things because they’re hard. We’re at a point where technologies are emerging so we can use these emerging technologies to protect ourselves from these threats,” Reynolds said. “I think we’re ready for this moment, but I’m not worried about spacecraft. I’m not worried about algorithms.”

If DART finishes its work, it will stop sending back signals after 7pm ET on Monday.

“Then we’ll celebrate,” Adams said.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.