NASA Will Test 'Planetary Defense' System by Shooting a Rocket at an Asteroid
NASA is getting ready to kick the asteroid of any space rock that comes close to Earth.
The space agency announced Tuesday it is officially moving forward with a trial run of its Double Asteroid Redirection Test, marking the first demonstration of the "kinetic impactor technique" in which one or more large, high-speed spacecraft are sent into the path of an asteroid to change its motion, NASA explained.
The agency's target is Dimorphos, a 525-foot long moon orbiting the much larger asteroid Didymos.
"The mission aims to shift an asteroid's orbit through kinetic impact – specifically, by impacting a spacecraft into the smaller member of the binary asteroid system Didymos to change its orbital speed," NASA said in a press release.
The mission will begin on Nov. 24 at 1:20 a.m. ET. with the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
"Our #DARTMission, launching this November, will also be our first test for planetary defense," reads a post to the NASA Asteroid Watch Twitter page.
For anyone worried about the experiment going wrong, NASA clarified that the impact will take place around 6.8 million miles from the planet, and will pose no danger to those on Earth.
"The DART demonstration has been carefully designed," NASA explained. "The impulse of energy that DART delivers to the Didymos binary asteroid system is low and cannot disrupt the asteroid, and Didymos's orbit does not intersect Earth's at any point in current predictions."
"Furthermore, the change in Dimorphos's orbit is designed to bring its orbit closer to Didymos," they added. "The DART mission is a demonstration of capability to respond to a potential asteroid impact threat, should one ever be discovered."
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According to the Washington Post, the agency will use a 31-lb. Italian satellite to record the test.
In a previous appearance on NASA's podcast, scientist Thomas Statler emphasized the historic nature of the mission.
"We've left footprints and tire tracks and things like that," Statler said, "but this will be the first time humanity has changed a celestial motion."