NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

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EnterpriseSovereign
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NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

Post by EnterpriseSovereign »

NASA has launched a spacecraft to smash into an asteroid and test whether it knocks it off course.

The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a $330 million project.

If all goes well, in September 2022 it will slam head-on into Dimorphos, an asteroid 160 metres across across, at 15,000 mph.

“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a small nudge,” said mission official Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the project.

Dimorphos orbits a much larger asteroid called Didymos. The pair are no danger to Earth but offer scientists a way to measure the effectiveness of the collision.

Dimorphos completes one orbit of Didymos every 11 hours, 55 minutes.

DART’s goal is a crash that will slow Dimorphos down and cause it to fall closer toward the bigger asteroid, shaving 10 minutes off its orbit.

The change in the orbital period will be measured by telescopes on Earth. The mission will be deemed a success if the orbit of Dimorphos is slowed down by a minimum of 73 seconds.

The DART technique could prove useful for altering the course of an asteroid years or decades before it bears down on Earth with the potential for catastrophe.

A small nudge “would add up to a big change in its future position, and then the asteroid and the Earth wouldn’t be on a collision course,” Chabot said.

Scientists constantly search for asteroids and plot their courses to determine whether they could hit the planet.

“Although there isn’t a currently known asteroid that’s on an impact course with the Earth, we do know that there is a large population of near-Earth asteroids out there,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defence officer at NASA. “The key to planetary defence is finding them well before they are an impact threat.”

DART will take 10 months to reach the asteroid pair. The collision will occur about 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometres) from Earth.

Ten days beforehand, DART will release a tiny observation spacecraft supplied by the Italian space agency that will follow it.

DART will stream video until it is destroyed on impact. Three minutes later, the trailing craft will make images of the impact site and material that is ejected.
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Re: NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

Post by Eternal_Freedom »

I had a couple of my colleagues asking me about this today, since I'd recently done one of my weekly interesting science facts about asteroid deflection. It's quite fascinating really, though I did point out that in a genuine attempt the impactor is likely to be a lot bigger, and/or carrying a nuke.

Also, is it just me or does Planetary Defence Officer sound like an awesome job title?
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Re: NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

Post by Jub »

This 'light' shove is likely just a calibration test to see if our modeling matches reality. We know what we expect to happen, but it would be a disaster if we needed to move a rock and found out that we needed 50% more force than expected to get the job done.
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Re: NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

Post by fnord »

Eternal_Freedom wrote: 2021-11-24 04:36pm Also, is it just me or does Planetary Defence Officer sound like an awesome job title?
Yes, it does... right up until an asteroid deflection/fragmentation mission doesn't perfectly succeed and instead of a megatonne rubble pile slamming into one of the soggier bits of the planet at ~30 km/s, a five kilotonne rubble pile slams into said rock in one of the soggier bits at ~30 km/s.

Locals get very wet, then notably cheesed off with said planetary defense officer responsible for the utterly failed asteroid defense mission.
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Re: NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

Post by Eternal_Freedom »

fnord wrote: 2021-11-27 07:59am
Eternal_Freedom wrote: 2021-11-24 04:36pm Also, is it just me or does Planetary Defence Officer sound like an awesome job title?
Yes, it does... right up until an asteroid deflection/fragmentation mission doesn't perfectly succeed and instead of a megatonne rubble pile slamming into one of the soggier bits of the planet at ~30 km/s, a five kilotonne rubble pile slams into said rock in one of the soggier bits at ~30 km/s.

Locals get very wet, then notably cheesed off with said planetary defense officer responsible for the utterly failed asteroid defense mission.
That's an easy one - if it's a five kiltonne rubble pile at 30 km/s, there won't be any locals left to complain. Besides, you can always blame magnetic fields. That worked all the way through my degree :D
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Re: NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

Post by fnord »

Eternal_Freedom wrote: 2021-11-27 05:28pm
That's an easy one - if it's a five kiltonne rubble pile at 30 km/s, there won't be any locals left to complain. Besides, you can always blame magnetic fields. That worked all the way through my degree :D
I was thinking, for an impact into the English Channel/southern North Sea, that "locals" would include up around Svalbard way.
Similarly, for dropping into Bass Strait, "locals' include South Africa, New Zealand.

But otherwise, I sit corrected.
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Re: NASA launches spacecraft to smash into asteroid in bid to nudge it off course

Post by Solauren »

Would landing a rock on the asteroid, and turning it off, be a better shove?

Or is that 'nice idea, we don't have the tech yet'
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