NASA’s DART mission aims to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid

Technology & Science

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – NASA will launch a first-of-its-kind mission tonight from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test Mission, or DART, aims to change the orbit of the moonlet of an asteroid. Mitch Shulte is a program scientist for DART

“We’re going to try for the very first time to actually change the way an object goes about its orbit, and we’ve never really done that before,” Shulte said.

The target of this mission is the small moonlet of a double asteroid system called Didymos.

“This is an attempt to change the orbit of the small moonlet that’s actually orbiting around a larger asteroid. And so that will be able to measure the change in the orbit with ground-based telescopes,” Shulte said.

This mission is coordinated by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. “The idea is to try and find, track and pay attention to some of these objects that are in what we call near-Earth orbits or their near-Earth objects. Some of them are fairly large, some of them are fairly small, but we want to try and find as many as we possibly can. This test is designed to try and see if we can actually influence whether these would become hazardous to us in the future.” Shulte said.

It will take some time for the spacecraft to reach Didymos. The impact will not happen until September 2022. During that time, the DART team will perform several demonstrative tests. These include deploying new roll-out solar panels and testing a new ion engine.

The DART mission will launch at 12:20 AM CST Wednesday or 10:20 PM PST Tuesday from California aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

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