NASA has set the launch date of a mission to hit an asteroid with a high speed spacecraft.
According to NASA, the mission, known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, (DART), will launch at 10:20 PST (7:20 P.M. EST) Nov. 23. It could help the international space agencies find ways to divert potentially deadly asteroids from hitting Earth.
DART will test the kinetic impactor technique, an asteroid defense system that involves shooting large spacecraft in the path of an approaching asteroid to alter its motion. Didymos is a binary target (two space rocks moving together) that consists of a larger asteroid measuring approximately 2,600 feet (780 m in diameter) and a smaller moonlet measuring approximately 525 feet (161 m).
NASA will target the moonlet in the hope that a direct impact on the rock will slow its orbit enough for Earth-based telescopes to study the effects.
"It will confirm what the viability is of the kinetic-impactor technique for diverting an asterroid's orbit, and determine that it continues to be viable option, at minimum for smaller-sized asteroids which are the most common impact hazard," Lindley John, NASA's Planetary Defence Officer, said earlier this year to Live Science sister site Space.com.
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California will launch the DART spacecraft. It will be carried by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket through high-altitude space. NASA says that the DART craft will travel through space for approximately a year after it separates from its launch vehicle. It will travel nearly 7 million miles (11,000,000 kilometers) from Earth before finally coming to Didymos in September 2022.
If everything goes according to plan, the DART craft is expected to crash into the moonlet's surface with a speed of approximately 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h), and will completely destroy the spacecraft upon impact. NASA claims that this high-speed collision will not cause the asteroid to lose even a fraction of its velocity.
This minor change should still slow down the moonlet's orbital time by several minutes. Astronomers can study the impact of this mission. The Light Italian CubeSat to Imagine Asteroids (LICIACube) is a companion spacecraft that will fly close by and provide astronomers with a closer look at the action. It is operated by the Italian Space Agency.
NASA closely monitors all near-Earth objects known to be within 1.3 Astronomical Units (1.3 times the distance between Earth's sun and Earth) of Earth. NASA officials have previously stated to Space.com that NASA has so far detected over 8,000 near-Earth asteroids measuring a diameter of 460 feet (140m). These objects could be rocks with enough size to wipe out entire states if they land a direct strike on Earth.
Original publication on Live Science