This is the proposed satellite that’s going to protect the planet (Photo from NASA)
NASA is always on the cutting edge of space exploration and technology. Their latest mission is no different. This time, NASA is looking to protect the Earth from potentially harmful asteroid impacts. They’ve come up with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) in an attempt to deflect asteroids away from the planet for planetary defense.
If you’re thinking NASA is going to pull off the plan used in Armageddon, it’s not that spectacular. Instead, DART uses the “kinetic impactor technique,” which involves crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to redirect away from Earth. It works by changing the speed of the asteroid by a small amount of its total velocity. It has to be done well before the predicted impact so the small change can build up over time. Initially, DART was only in the concept stage, but after receiving approval last month, they are now moving into the design phase.
So, what will be DART’s first target? A pair of asteroids that will get new Earth in October 2022 and again in 2024. The asteroid is name Didymos, Greek for “twin” since it’s part of an asteroid binary system made up of two bodies: Didymos A roughly 780 meters in size, and Didymos B, about 160 meters that orbits around Didymos A. NASA’s been studying this asteroid body since 2003 and while they can estimate the composition of Didymos A, the second asteroid can’t be determined, which poses a greater risk for the planet if it comes in contact with the Earth.
The plan is to have DART fly to Didymos and use its autonomous targeting system to aim itself at Didymos B. Then the spacecraft, which is as big as a refrigerator, would hit the smaller asteroid at a speed of 3.7 miles per second, roughly nine times faster than a bullet. Back on Earth, a scientist would watch the impact and see the change in the orbit of Didymos B around Didymos A. From there, they can determine the capacities of a kinetic impact as an asteroid migration strategy.
The goal of the mission is to show NASA can protect the planet from future asteroid impacts. It may surprise you to learn asteroids collide with Earth daily, but they’re small and normally break up in the upper atmosphere. They don’t become an issue until they get larger than 0.6 miles in diameter. At this size, they can have regional damage upon collision, something our already fragile doesn’t need. NASA already does a great job tracking asteroids and determining whether or not they’re hazardous, but giving them the ability to deflect dangerous ones not only keeps our planet safe, it makes NASA even cooler.
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