NASA’s spacecraft is preparing for a violent collision with an asteroid

During the mission "Double Asteroid Redirection Test" or "DART" that started last fall, NASA's spacecraft is supposed to return to an asteroid on September 26 be small This is one of the few missions where destroying the spacecraft is considered a desirable goal!

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During the mission "Double Asteroid Redirection Test" or "DART" that started last fall, NASA's spacecraft is supposed to return to an asteroid on September 26 be small This is one of the few missions where destroying the spacecraft is considered a desirable goal!

This mission, carried out under the Planetary Defense Program, is looking for a way to protect Earth from any potential asteroid impact. . Scientists plan to prevent a disaster if a dangerous asteroid threatens the Earth in the future with a mission like Dart. The need that was clearly seen in NASA's asteroid impact maneuver.

"Thomas Zurbuchen" (Thomas Zurbuchen), NASA's vice president of science, said about dangerous objects for Earth: "These objects exist in space and leave their marks on They have left the moon and even in the history of the earth, they have had an impact on our planet."

He added: "A new set of missions will allow us to understand and measure these threats in an unprecedented way, and now Dart is the first mission that tries to detect such an object with a direct test."

Scientists have so far identified and mapped the orbit of nearly 30,000 asteroids in the neighborhood of the Earth. All of these space rocks either never touch Earth's orbit or are so small that if they do break Earth's orbit, they burn up in the Earth's atmosphere unharmed. But there's still the possibility that an asteroid impact could damage Earth in the future, and that's why planetary defense experts want to be prepared for such an event in advance.

The idea is that if scientists spot an asteroid on its way To detect an impact with Earth, an impactor would alter its orbit and ensure that the space rock would only de-orbit when it was at a safe distance from our planet. But scientists don't want to work only based on theoretical knowledge in case of such a situation, and they should have tried this path before.

This is where the dramatic destruction of the Dart spacecraft becomes important. The spacecraft will hit a small asteroid called Dimorphos, which orbits the larger, near-Earth asteroid Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes. None of these asteroids pose a threat to Earth, and neither do darts. The spacecraft's impact will only change Dimorphos' orbit slightly, shortening it by about 10 minutes.

For weeks after the impact, scientists will measure actual changes in the asteroid's orbit and compare it to predictions. This will improve their understanding of how asteroids react to impact events and help fine-tune impact intensity on future missions.

Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who manages "It's not just a one-time event," he said of the Dart collision. We want to know what happens to Dimorphos; "But more importantly, we want to understand how effective this method is for possible future use." , but the purpose of the experiment and the possible real mission are the same. "This is a very challenging task," said Evan Smith, deputy director of the Dart mission. We only have one chance and that's why we want to succeed in it.

  • NASA's Dart navigation instrument has spotted its target asteroid

But what if things don't go according to plan? Mission personnel are confident that even then, it will still provide valuable data by the time the spacecraft hits its target. "It would be very surprising if the orbital period were not observed because the momentum created by the weight of the Dart spacecraft alone would be enough to change its orbit measurably."

However, the change Not orbiting the asteroid is still considered as a possibility and even this is somehow considered as the goal of the mission. Planetary defenders need to know what changes they need to make if they are going to do a real asteroid deflection mission. Asteroid redirection gives us all confidence that asteroid deflection technology can work well in the future. But even if the spacecraft is lost without the asteroid's orbital deviation, it will still provide us with a lot of data. This is a test mission and we are testing the necessary changes now to do, not when we really need such a mission.

Cover photo: A graphic design of the Dart spacecraft
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

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