Are We Really Sending a DART to Space?

December 18, 2022

Similar to your traditional dart which you throw on a board to hit a bullseye, NASA is sending DART(Double Asteroid Redirection Test) on a collision course with an asteroid called Dimorphos. The asteroid in question is an orbiting moonlet, a natural satellite of a celestial object, of another Aesteriod called Didymos.

However, because the asteroid won’t collide with Earth, it brings up the question of why we are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try to send a spacecraft to come into impact with one that won’t even threaten our existence. The goal of the DART mission is actually to protect Earth from future astronomical objects that pose a threat, similar to the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs. This can be accomplished because DART allows us to investigate and demonstrate application-based methods in the real world of asteroid deflection. After all, DART’s kinetic impact will alter the asteroid’s movement in space; therefore, in theory, it will also change the trajectory of the object. Once DART has that impact on the asteroid then scientists will analyze the change in the orbit of Dimorphous relative to Didymos’ path before the collision. As a result, DART will be able to demonstrate that a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a kinetic impact on a relatively small asteroid and prove this is a reasonable measure in deflecting an asteroid on a collision course with Earth if one is ever discovered.

“For the first time, we will move a celestial body intentionally in space, beyond Earth orbit! This test goes beyond international borders, and really shows what we can accomplish if we all work together as one team and as one Earth.”

Elena Adams, DART Mission Systems Engineer

While there are no immediate threats to Earth concerning asteroids that have been detected, it is important to have a system where we can protect ourselves in case of an emergency. Astronomers say that there isn’t an asteroid larger than 140 meters that can hit Earth in the next 100 years, but we haven’t been able to detect every single asteroid. It’s estimated that only 40% of the total threats have been deciphered, meaning that at any time we may have to develop a new system similar to DART to hit a bullseye on an impending potential catastrophe.

 

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