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Nasa’s first planetary defense test mission

23.09.2022 10:11 AM
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Nasa’s first planetary defense test mission
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Nasa’s first planetary defense test mission

Next Monday, the US space agency (NASA) will attempt to do a feat that humanity has not seen before, which is to deliberately collide a spacecraft with an asteroid to divert its course, in a major test of humanity's ability to prevent cosmic bodies from destroying life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Reduction Test (DART) spacecraft was launched from California last November and is rapidly approaching its target, which it will hit at a speed of 23,000 km, and its size is smaller than the size of a car.

And there is no need to panic, neither the asteroid "Demorphos" nor the largest asteroid around which "Didymos" poses any threat, because they orbit around the sun at a distance of about seven million miles from Earth at the closest point, according to AFP.

But NASA considered it important to carry out this mission before it was actually needed.

"It's an exciting moment not only for the agency but also for space history and human history," Lindley Johnson, an official in NASA's Planetary Defense Division, told reporters at a conference on Thursday.

If everything goes according to plan, the collision between the spacecraft and the asteroid is expected to occur at 19:14 ET (23:14 GMT) and can be followed up via NASA's live broadcast.

By colliding with Demorphos, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit that saves ten minutes from the time it takes to circle Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes, a change that will be detected by ground-based telescopes in the following days.

This experience will make what was previously tried only in science fiction, especially in films such as "Armageddon" and "Don't Lock Up", a reality.

Technical challenge

In order to hit this small target, the vehicle will steer independently during the last four hours of flight, like a self-guided missile.

And its camera called "Draco" will take the first pictures of the asteroid, whose shape is not yet known (round or rectangular...) at the last moment. At a frame rate per second, it will be able to be seen directly on Earth with a delay of only about 45 seconds.

Minutes later, a shoebox-sized satellite called LICIACube, which separated from Dart two weeks ago, will pass near the site to capture images of the impact and other materials such as crushed rock from the impact.

Images will be sent to LICIACube in the following weeks and months.

Also, a group of telescopes, on Earth and in space, including "James Webb", will monitor this event, and may be able to see a luminous cloud of dust.

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