NASA has launched the first planetary defense vehicle, DART, into space using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The vehicle is expected to change the orbit of a near-Earth asteroid by controlled ramming next fall, which is necessary to work out methods of planetary defense. The launch was broadcasted on Youtube.
DART will protect the Earth from asteroids
The task of DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is to test one of the methods of protecting the Earth from dangerous asteroids by controlled ramming of the spacecraft, so that the orbit of the asteroid should be changed. The 160-meter asteroid Dimorph, which is part of the double system (65803) of the Didim family of Apollo and orbits the 750-meter main body, has been chosen as the test target. It is assumed that the change in the orbit of Dimorph around Didim will manifest itself in a change in the orbital period of the asteroid by 4-7 minutes.
The vehicle weighs 550 kilograms and is equipped with solar and stellar sensors, as well as a DRACO camera with a 20.8 centimeter aperture and the LICIACube cubesat, which will separate from DART a few days before contact with the asteroid and will monitor the collision. DART will reach its target using xenon ion engines, which will be powered by ROSA’s deployable solar panels.
The Falcon 9 rocket with DART was launched at 09:21 Moscow time from the SLC-4E pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This launch used the rocket’s twice-flying first stage, which landed on a barge in the ocean after operation. The separation of the vehicle took place nearly an hour after launch.
The ram itself is expected to occur on Oct. 2, 2022, and in 2027 the European station Hera will reach Dimorph, which will examine the system in detail and further confirm Dimorph’s changing orbit.