NASA sends a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid

  • The mission, part of the agency’s defensive strategy, will test the effects of a vehicle impact against the celestial body

NASA launched a spacecraft on Tuesday that plans to deliberately hitting an asteroid in autumn 2022 to deviate its orbit, in an unprecedented test mission that is part of the strategy of planetary defense from the US agency.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission took off promptly at 10:21 p.m. local time (6:21 GMT) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base. , California (USA). This mission has been considered “historic” by NASA, since the objective is to collide with an asteroid to divert it from its orbit in order to test technology that would be necessary to avoid a possible collision with the Earth.

Orbit deviation

The DART spacecraft will head towards the asteroid Didymos and his little moon, Dimorphos, which will be the target of the impact to alter its orbit, which is harmless to Earth. According to NASA calculations, Didymos and Dimorphos will be relatively close to Earth – about 11 million kilometers– at the estimated time of impact. Once DART collides with Dimorphos, NASA examine changes in its orbit around Didymos to assess whether the method is feasible to defend the Earth, in case some asteroid represents a threat to the planet in the future.

NASA’s first planetary defense mission will deliberately collide with Didymos to divert it from its orbit in order to test the technology that would be necessary to avoid a collision with the Earth, which studies, analyzes and measures all near-Earth asteroids and their trajectories to understand and reduce the danger of a possible impact, according to an interview. with Efe the software engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Luis Rodriguez, a member of the DART team.

“This is really the beginning of the culmination of work and the efforts of hundreds of people at NASA and other centers over many years, “said a scientist from the Space Agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, Kelly Fast, in statements to the official NASA television channel minutes after the launching.

After takeoff, hundreds of people celebrated with shouts of joy in the vicinity of the NASA base, according to images from the same channel and social networks.

Threat against the planet

Once DART clash against Dimorphos, NASA will examine the changes in its orbit around Didymos to assess whether the method is viable to defend the Earth, in case some asteroid represents a future threat to the planet.

For the impact to be effective, DART will travel at about 6 kilometers per second, an “incredibly fast” speed and necessary for the crash to alter “a little” the trajectory of Dimorphos, the size of the George Washington Monument – a 155-foot-tall (47.2-meter) obelisk located in the US capital. .UU.-, but with greater volume, said Rodríguez.

Although the crash will not occur until fall 2022, has the potential to lay the groundwork for protect all mankind from the apocalyptic danger of asteroids.

Until 100 years from now

Although the mission started today, Rodríguez ruled out that no known asteroid is going to hit Earth in the next 100 years. The collision will be recorded by a briefcase-sized satellite called CubeSat, which has been developed by the Italian Space Agency.

That cubicle will be deployed shortly before the collision to capture images and videos of the impact and its effects on Dimorphos. “10 days after the impact, it will separate from DART and will start taking photographs. It is very important to characterize and give us information here on Earth about the changes in the orbit of Dimorphos,” said Rodríguez.

$ 330 million

According to NASA figures, the mission will cost about 330 million dollars (293 million euros), including almost 310 in the development of the spacecraft that took off this Tuesday from California.

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Other expenses They include launch services and other operations and analysis of the data collected during and after the impact with the asteroid.

The mission data, according to NASA, will be combined with that of the mission Hera, of the European Space Agency and planned between 2024 and 2026 to analyze in more detail the asteroids and the crater that DART will leave in Dimorphos.

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