NASA’s DART mission to intentionally crash into an asteroid: What you’ll want 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 However this is not any outdated spacecraft.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 Take a look at, is NASA’s check run of a futuristic planetary protection system that’ll shield 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. Often, they don’t seem to be too menacing as a result of a lot of the rock burns up within the environment. However as you might recall, dinosaurs had been worn out almost 66 million years in the past by a large one referred to as Chicxulub

The purpose of the DART mission is easy: NASA desires to grasp if we are able to crash into an asteroid to stop such a calamity from wiping us out.

As a proof of precept, the spacecraft will strike a bit of asteroid referred to as Dimorphos that is orbiting a bigger asteroid, Didymos. The goal asteroid is about as massive because the Washington Monument is tall, and on affect, it is hoped the rock’s trajectory and velocity shall be altered.

This specific floating rock would not pose a menace to our planet. But when DART is profitable at knocking Dimorphos barely off target, we’ll know we could have a workable tactic for sooner or later warding off asteroids which might be really harmful.

Easy methods to watch NASA launch the DART mission

You’ll be able to 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 couple of months, so be certain that to verify CNET Science for actual 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, remember to take a look at CNET Highlights for updates, clips and extra inside information on the mission. For now, listed here are a couple of essential mission specs to learn about in preparation for launch day.

Goal acquired: Dimorphos 

Someplace in our photo voltaic system lies a grayish house rock a couple of half mile broad often 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 check as a result of its orbit round Didymos mimics how probably threatening near-Earth asteroids orbit across the solar. Asteroids are gravitationally sure to our star, which might 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 shall be robust sufficient to regulate Dimorphos’s orbital interval by a couple of minutes. Calculations present the affect will carry Dimorphos nearer to Didymos. 

The take-home message is this can be a expertise demonstration — a manner for NASA to get priceless information on how we could sooner or later 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 are able to 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 velocity of the incoming object by a centimeter per second or so. That is not very quick, however for those who do it sufficient seconds prematurely, you possibly can trigger it to overlook the Earth completely,” in accordance 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 staff members rigorously eliminated the spacecraft from its transport container and moved it to a low dolly.

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

This method is one in all many concepts for saving humanity from asteroids, and it is often known as “deflection by kinetic impactor.” In response to the staff, that is the primary time the tactic shall be employed intergalactically.

“This system is considered probably the most technologically mature method for mitigating a probably hazardous asteroid,” NASA’s planetary protection officer, Lindley Johnson, stated in an announcement. “It’ll assist planetary protection specialists refine asteroid kinetic impactor pc fashions, giving perception into how we might deflect probably harmful near-Earth objects sooner or later.”

The best way it really works is fairly intuitive.

Fast, toss something at it!

As an instance your buddy is using a skateboard extraordinarily quick and is headed towards your canine. One (chaotic) manner so that you can save your canine is to run into your skateboarding buddy. Whenever you collide together with your buddy, the power you have constructed up modifications their course and lowers their velocity. You have simply develop 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 taking part in the position of a future spacecraft.

DART works in an analogous manner, but it surely’s not attempting to guard the canine, it is simply attempting to knock a skateboarder off target. The spacecraft, which is in regards to the measurement of a college bus, will fly into Dimorphos at a velocity 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 affect, NASA says, the small asteroid’s, or moonlet’s, orbital velocity ought to change by a fraction of a %, which ends up 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 affect 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 primarily based on priceless info retrieved from DART’s prototype.

The courageous spacecraft’s specs

DART is quite easy. It is a comparatively cheap steel field with two roll out, prolonged photo voltaic arrays for energy, a single digicam and a smaller satellite tv for pc, or CubeSat, that’ll be deployed proper earlier than affect. 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 below are some specifics:

Price: $308 million.

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

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 digicam and one CubeSat.

Engine: Ion propulsion expertise/Xenon thrusters.


DART staff engineers elevate and examine the CubeSat. The miniaturized satellite tv for pc will deploy 10 days earlier than DART’s asteroid affect, 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 staff’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 top, DART

The spacecraft’s instruments could also be few, however they’re key. The Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Digital camera for Optical navigation, or DRACO, gadget is an ultra-high-resolution digicam that may measure the scale, 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 info again to Earth in actual time by means of an antenna connected to the machine.

As well as, DART shall 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 software, to make sure it hits Dimorphos at precisely the proper 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 affect’s chronicle lengthy after DART turns to rubble.

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

Then: growth.

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

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