NASA’s DART mission to crash into an asteroid: What it’s good to know

NASA's DART mission to deliberately crash into an asteroid: What you need to know

An illustration of the DART spacecraft.

NASA/John Hopkins APL

Very quickly, aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, NASA’s DART spacecraft will blast off into the cosmos. However this is not any previous spacecraft. In contrast to beloved robotic explorers Lucy and the Parker Photo voltaic Probe, DART is not going to ship again scientific secrets and techniques of the universe. It is programmed to crash.

DART, which stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Check, is NASA’s take a look at run of a futuristic planetary protection system that’ll defend Earth from incoming asteroids by actually slamming spacecraft into them.

Asteroids collide with our planet extra typically than you would possibly assume, ranging in measurement from fridges to vehicles. Normally, they don’t seem to be too menacing as a result of many of the rock burns up within the ambiance. However as it’s possible you’ll recall, dinosaurs have been worn out practically 66 million years in the past by an enormous one known as Chicxulub

The aim of the DART mission is easy: NASA needs to know if we will crash into an asteroid to forestall such a calamity from wiping us out.

As a proof of precept, the spacecraft will strike slightly asteroid known as Dimorphos that is orbiting a bigger asteroid, Didymos. The goal asteroid is about as massive because the Washington Monument is tall, and on impression, it is hoped the rock’s trajectory and pace might be altered.

This specific floating rock does not pose a menace to our planet. But when DART is profitable at knocking Dimorphos barely off track, we’ll know we could have a workable tactic for at some point keeping off asteroids which can be truly harmful.

The way to watch NASA launch the DART mission

You possibly can watch the primary liftoff try on-line on NASA TV. Its launch window opens on Nov. 23 at 10:20 p.m. PT (Nov. 24 at 1:20 a.m. ET). Be aware, this is not essentially the launch time. It is window is open for a number of months, so be sure to examine CNET Science for precise timings.

This is how that point interprets to totally different zones:

  • US: Nov. 23, 10:20 a.m. PT / Nov. 24, 1:20 a.m. ET.
  • Brazil: Nov. 24, 3:20 a.m. (Federal District).
  • UK: Nov. 24, 6:20 a.m.
  • South Africa: Nov. 24, 8:20 a.m.
  • Russia: Nov. 24, 9:20 a.m. (Moscow).
  • United Arab Emirates: Nov. 24, 10:20 a.m. 
  • India: Nov. 24, 11:50 a.m.
  • China: Nov. 24, 2:20 p.m.
  • Japan: Nov. 24, 3:20 p.m.
  • Australia: Nov. 24, 5:20 p.m. AEDT.

Till then, make sure you try CNET Highlights for updates, clips and extra inside information on the mission. For now, listed here are a number of essential mission specs to learn about in preparation for launch day.

Goal acquired: Dimorphos 

Someplace in our photo voltaic system lies a grayish area rock a couple of half mile extensive generally known as Didymos, which, with a delicate gravitational pull, retains a companion asteroid on a leash. That second, smaller fragment orbiting Didymos is DART’s goal: Dimorphos.

In late 2022, the DART spacecraft is poised to autonomously navigate towards and collide with Dimorphos when it is about 7 million miles from Earth — their closest level to Earth.

Mainly, scientists behind DART chosen Dimorphos for the take a look at as a result of its orbit round Didymos mimics how doubtlessly threatening near-Earth asteroids orbit across the solar. Asteroids are gravitationally sure to our star, which may put them on a collision course with the Earth. 

However Dimorphos’s orbit is not locked to Earth or the solar however quite to Didymos. This makes it an ideal testing floor for NASA. They will attempt to crash DART into the tiny rock and see how that modifications its orbit round its bigger companion.

NASA predicts the crash might be robust sufficient to regulate Dimorphos’s orbital interval by a couple of minutes. Calculations present the impression will carry Dimorphos nearer to Didymos. 

The take-home message is this can be a know-how demonstration — a approach for NASA to get invaluable information on how we could at some point deflect an excellent scary asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth. The scientists behind the mission need to study simply how a lot we will have an effect on asteroid orbits with a spacecraft crash that hardly nudges the rock.

“Principally, what we’re seeking to do is change the pace of the incoming object by a centimeter per second or so. That is not very quick, however in case you do it sufficient seconds upfront, you may trigger it to overlook the Earth solely,” in line with the mission overview by Johns Hopkins College’s Utilized Physics Laboratory.


After transferring DART to SpaceX’s payload processing facility at Vandenberg Area Pressure Base in California, DART crew members rigorously eliminated the spacecraft from its delivery container and moved it to a low dolly.

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

This strategy is one in every of many concepts for saving humanity from asteroids, and it is generally known as “deflection by kinetic impactor.” In response to the crew, that is the primary time the tactic might be employed intergalactically.

“This system is regarded as probably the most technologically mature strategy for mitigating a doubtlessly hazardous asteroid,” NASA’s planetary protection officer, Lindley Johnson, stated in a press release. “It should assist planetary protection specialists refine asteroid kinetic impactor pc fashions, giving perception into how we may deflect doubtlessly harmful near-Earth objects sooner or later.”

The best way it really works is fairly intuitive.

Fast, toss stuff at it!

To illustrate your buddy is driving a skateboard extraordinarily quick and is headed towards your canine. One (chaotic) approach so that you can save your canine is to run into your skateboarding pal. Whenever you collide together with your pal, the vitality you’ve got constructed up modifications their path and lowers their pace. You’ve got simply turn into a kinetic impactor — designed to throw your skateboarding buddy off-course and save your canine.

If the skateboarder was a planet-destroying asteroid and your canine was Earth, you would be enjoying the function of a future spacecraft.

DART works in an analogous approach, but it surely’s not attempting to guard the canine, it is simply attempting to knock a skateboarder off track. The spacecraft, which is in regards to the measurement of a faculty bus, will fly into Dimorphos at a pace of about 4.1 miles per second. That is roughly 14,760 miles per hour (23,760 kilometers per hour). 


Illustration of the DART spacecraft with its Roll Out Photo voltaic Arrays prolonged. 

NASA/John Hopkins APL

On impression, NASA says, the small asteroid’s, or moonlet’s, orbital pace ought to change by a fraction of a p.c, which results in an orbital interval that is a number of minutes slower. 

Although Dimorphos poses no menace to Earth, Earth-based telescopes can simply catalog the bump’s results, as a result of at simply 7 million miles away, the impression is shut sufficient for scientists to look at any modifications within the rock’s orbit round its companion, serving to them to excellent future planetary protection weapons based mostly on invaluable data retrieved from DART’s prototype.

The courageous spacecraft’s specs

DART is quite easy. It is a comparatively cheap metallic field with two roll out, prolonged photo voltaic arrays for energy, a single digital camera and a smaller satellite tv for pc, or CubeSat, that’ll be deployed proper earlier than impression. The sparse instruments make sense, because the spacecraft is doomed to die in a suicide mission. 


Two totally different views of the DART spacecraft.


Listed here are some specifics:

Value: $308 million.

Weight: 1,345 kilos (610 kilograms) at launch / 1,210 (550 kilograms) kilos at impression. 

Field dimensions: 3.9 by 4.3 by 4.3 ft (1.2 by 1.3 by 1.3 meters).

Photo voltaic array dimensions: 27.9 ft every (8.5 meters).

Further instrumentation: DRACO digital camera and one CubeSat.

Engine: Ion propulsion know-how/Xenon thrusters.


DART crew engineers carry and examine the CubeSat. The miniaturized satellite tv for pc will deploy 10 days earlier than DART’s asteroid impression, offering important footage of the collision and subsequent plume of supplies. Right here, one of many photo voltaic panel arrays on the satellite tv for pc’s wings is seen.

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Whereas DART’s spacecraft payload is hyper-minimal, the crew’s programming behind the course is very superior. That is as a result of the courageous little craft goes to behave autonomously all through the mission. 

Till the tip, DART

The spacecraft’s instruments could also be few, however they’re key. The Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Digicam for Optical navigation, or DRACO, machine is an ultra-high-resolution digital camera that may measure the dimensions, form and geologic composition of asteroids in its neighborhood. 

DART additionally has a metal-oxide semiconductor and picture processor that’ll assist the spacecraft decide the exact positioning of Dimorphos and stream data again to Earth in actual time by means of an antenna connected to the machine.

As well as, DART might be armed with a particular navigational toolkit with state-of-the-art directional coding, together with the star tracker, which is my private favourite NASA instrument, to make sure it hits Dimorphos at precisely the suitable second — ding, ding: the 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) checkpoint. Ten days earlier than DART smacks into its goal, it will ship its CubeSat out. That offshoot will protect the kinetic impression’s chronicle lengthy after DART turns to rubble.

DART will toil within the line of responsibility proper up till the tip. NASA hopes to catch the collision’s juicy particulars earlier than, after and through impression, so “in its closing moments,” the Johns Hopkins College overview says, “DART’s DRACO digital camera will assist characterize the impression web site by offering high-resolution, scientific photos of the floor of Dimorphos.”

Then: growth.

Mission over — till step two of our intergalactic protection system commences.

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