New York: After 10 months flying in space, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – the world’s first planetary defense technology demonstration – successfully impacted its asteroid target on Monday, the agency’s first attempt to move an asteroid in space.
Mission control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, announced the successful impact at 7:14 p.m. As a part of NASA’s overall planetary defense strategy, DART’s impact with the asteroid Dimorphos demonstrates a viable mitigation technique for protecting the planet from an Earth-bound asteroid or comet, if one were discovered.
DART targeted the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, a small body just 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter. It orbits a larger, 2,560-foot (780-meter) asteroid called Didymos. Neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth. The mission’s one-way trip confirmed NASA can successfully navigate a spacecraft to intentionally collide with an asteroid to deflect it, a technique known as kinetic impact.
The investigation team will now observe Dimorphos using ground-based telescopes to confirm that DART’s impact altered the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos. Researchers expect the impact to shorten Dimorphous’ orbit by about 1%, or roughly 10 minutes; precisely measuring how much the asteroid was deflected is one of the primary purposes of the full-scale test.
The spacecraft’s sole instrument, the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), together with a sophisticated guidance, navigation and control system that works in tandem with Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) algorithms, enabled DART to identify and distinguish between the two asteroids, targeting the smaller body.
These systems guided the 1,260-pound (570-kilogram) box-shaped spacecraft through the final 56,000 miles (90,000 kilometers) of space into Dimorphos, intentionally crashing into it at roughly 14,000 miles (22,530 kilometers) per hour to slightly slow the asteroid’s orbital speed. DRACO’s final images, obtained by the spacecraft seconds before impact, revealed the surface of Dimorphos in close-up detail.