NASA is preparing to purposefully crash a spacecraft into a moonlet of a near-Earth asteroid in an effort to alter its momentum and, ultimately, orientation across space. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Asteroid deflection by altering an asteroid’s motion in space through kinetic collision is the mechanism being investigated and demonstrated by NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART.
The spacecraft has been catching up to its objective for just over nine months since its launch in November of last year. Dimorphos is the name of the moonless asteroid Didymos, which is located around 6.8 million miles from Earth.
DART will alter the orbit of the moonlet Dimorphos in the Didymos binary asteroid system on September 26 by colliding with it at a speed of around 6.6 km/s (14,768 mph). But why not aim the spaceship directly for the large asteroid? Well, there are a few. Scientists believe that by colliding with the smaller moonlet rather than the larger asteroid Didymos, they will be able to more dramatically alter its orbit due to the moonlet’s gravitational pull. The Didymos’ trajectory will be altered by even the smallest change in the moonlet’s orbital velocity.
Jay Tate, the director of the National Near Earth Objects Information Centre in Knighton, Powys, believes that because astronomers have been closely monitoring the crash’s route around the larger asteroid, it will be simpler to determine the amount of the deflection.
A tiny but genuine threat from asteroids exists for Earth. This mission will be essential in gathering information to establish whether deliberately crashing a spaceship with an asteroid is a successful method of altering the spacecraft’s trajectory. Wish dinosaurs had an astronautics program.