In an attempt to pull off a feat so far seen only in science fiction films, NASA is planning to launch a spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will hit a small moonlet in the binary asteroid system Didymos in September 2022.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) — NASA's firstmission to demonstrate a planetary defence technique — is scheduled to belaunched in mid-2021, the US space agency said on Monday.
By using solar electric propulsion, DART will intercept thetarget when the asteroid will be within 11 million km of Earth.
The asteroid poses no threat to Earth and is an ideal testtarget, NASA said.
To navigate the DART spacecraft to its intended target — abinary asteroid that consists of a small moon (Didymos B) orbiting a largerbody (Didymos A) — scientists need to understand how the system behaves.
Scientists have been making efforts to observe Didymos fromEarth since 2015, and now, an international campaign coordinated by NorthernArizona University's Cristina Thomas is making critical observations usingpowerful telescopes worldwide to understand the state of the asteroid systembefore DART reaches it.
Current observations will help researchers to betterunderstand the extent of the impact made when DART slams into its target —Didymos B — in September 2022, NASA said.
"The Didymos system is too small and too far to be seenas anything more than a point of light, but we can get the data we need bymeasuring the brightness of that point of light, which changes as Didymos Arotates and Didymos B orbits," said Andy Rivkin, a co-lead of theinvestigation team.
The investigation team will observe Didymos again from late2020 into the spring of 2021. Final ground-based observations will occur as thespacecraft travels toward the asteroid, as well as after impact occurs.
The total cost for NASA to launch DART is approximately $69million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.