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Nasa and SpaceX to crash satellite into an asteroid – here’s why


Artist’s impression of the DART satellite approaching its target (Nasa)

Nasa is planning to launch an ambitious space mission later this week to crash a satellite into an asteroid.

Why? Because the US space agency believes it’s the best way to avert a possible planet-destroying collission in the future.

The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) satellite will launch in the early hours of Wednesday morning with the aim of smashing into Didymos – a ‘binary’ asteroid consisting of a small rock orbiting a larger one.

The smaller asteroid, called Dimorphos – is Nasa’s exact target.

The impact won’t happen until 2022, but if it’s successful, it has the potential to protect the whole of humanity from the apocalyptic danger of incoming asteroids.

According to Nasa, the mission is an ‘attempt to pull off a feat so far seen only in science fiction films’.

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When DART hits Dimorphos, scientists will watch closely through telescopes and the craft’s Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Op-nav (DRACO) camera.

It’s hoped smashing the spaceship into Dimorphos will either destroy the rock or steer it onto a new course.

Nasa picked this asteroid as the target because the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos mimics how potential near-Earth asteroids orbit the sun. Once the impact happens, the experts can see how the orbit is changed.

An infographic showing the target of the DART satellite (Nasa)

‘Mostly, what we’re looking to do is change the speed of the incoming object by a centimeter per second or so,’ explains the mission overview by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

‘That’s not very fast, but if you do it enough seconds in advance, you can cause it to miss the Earth entirely.’ 

How to watch Nasa’s DART mission live

Nasa will be broadcasting the launch live on its online TV channel (Getty)

Nasa will be launching its DART satellite atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California later this week.

The agency will be broadcasting the launch live across the internet on Nasa TV – you can find it by following this link.

What time is the launch?

The satellite will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable rocket from California (Getty)

Nasa’s target launch window opens at 10.20pm local time on November 23rd.

That translates to 6.20am on November 24 here in the UK.

It’s important to note, that’s not the designated blast-off time. That’s just when the launch window opens for the first liftoff attempt.

Exact timings will come through in due course.

How much is the DART mission costing Nasa?

The DART satellite is about the size of a school bus (Nasa)

According to Nasa, the total cost of the DART mission is $308 million – about £230 million.

The DART satellite itself is about the size of a bus. And when it hits the asteroid, it will be travelling at 4.1 miles per second. That’s roughly 14,760 miles per hour (23,760 kilometers per hour). 

‘This technique is thought to be the most technologically mature approach for mitigating a potentially hazardous asteroid,’ Nasa’s planetary defence officer, Lindley Johnson, said in a statement.

‘It will help planetary defense experts refine asteroid kinetic impactor computer models, giving insight into how we could deflect potentially dangerous near-Earth objects in the future.’


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