NASA gears up for its ‘Armageddon’ moment: Agency is set to launch its DART mission aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to deliberately crash into an asteroid to test Earth’s planetary defense

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  • NASA kicks off its much-anticipated Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission at 1:20 p.m. ET. launching on
  • SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will take off from California to deliver square-shaped space probe into space
  • The probe will travel 6.8 million miles to two asteroids – Dimorphos and Didymos – for an arrival in October 2022
  • The craft would then deliberately break into dimorphos to knock the asteroid off its trajectory
  • It’s a test for NASA to see if it’s possible for a spacecraft to hit an asteroid moving toward Earth

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NASA is just hours away from launching a spacecraft that will intentionally smash into an asteroid to see if this defense can stop a giant space rock from wiping out life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART), a box-shaped space probe, patiently awaits a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, where it will climb into space at 1:20 p.m. ET.

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NASA plans to host a livestream of the launch on its channel starting Wednesday at 12:30 ET.

“All systems and weather looking good for tonight’s Falcon 9 launch of @NASA’s DART into an asteroid-intercepted interplanetary trajectory,” Elon Musk’s SpaceX shared on Twitter today.

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Dart is a 1,344-pound craft that will travel at 13,500 mph over the next 10 months in its journey to Dimorphos, a small asteroid located 6.8 million miles from Earth — it will hit the target in October 2022.

The mission’s idea is to see if a giant spacecraft pushes the asteroid off its trajectory toward Earth and, if all goes according to plan, it will be NASA’s weapon of choice in a real-world event.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an interview, “Dart” is a replay of Bruce Willis’s film “Armageddon”, although it was completely fictional.

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In this image released by NASA, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft onboard, is seen during sunrise on November 23, 2021

NASA emphasizes that the asteroids in question pose no threat to our home planet, but were chosen because they can be seen on Earth with ground-based telescopes.

‘It could be the existence of the Earth,’ Nelson said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘If we have the capability on an inbound asteroid that could threaten our existence, as in the time of the dinosaurs an asteroid struck what is now the Yucatan Peninsula and wiped out the dinosaurs.

‘So we certainly have a personal interest in being able to spin an asteroid at high velocity.

‘In the future we saw an inbound asteroid on Earth’s trajectory, we could send a probe there, ram it and change its trajectory a bit so that by the time it got here it missed Earth.’

This artist's illustration obtained from NASA on November 4, 2021 shows the Dart spacecraft from behind before impact on the Didymos binary system.  1998 Hollywood blockbuster

This artist’s illustration obtained from NASA on November 4, 2021 shows the Dart spacecraft from behind before impact on the Didymos binary system. In the 1998 Hollywood blockbuster ‘Armageddon’, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck race to save Earth from being crushed by an asteroid

SpaceX is using its Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Dart mission and has shared an update that all systems and weather look good for launch

SpaceX is using its Falcon 9 rocket to launch the Dart mission and has shared an update that all systems and weather look good for launch

Dimorphos measures about 525 feet, the size of two Statue of Liberty, and is orbiting a much larger asteroid called Didymos, which is 2,500 feet in diameter—the pair orbiting a distant Sun.

Dart is a 1,344-pound craft that will spend the next 10 months traveling to a small asteroid Dimorphos

Dart is a 1,344-pound craft that will spend the next 10 months traveling to a small asteroid Dimorphos

When Dart collides with Dimorphos, the plan is to change the speed of the asteroid by a fraction of a percent, but the space rock should not be destroyed in the process.

Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which built the Dart, said in a statement: ‘It’s just going to give it a little nudge.

‘It’s only going to be a change of 1 percent in that orbital period, so what was 11 hours and 55 minutes ago could be like 11 hours 45 minutes.’

Dart probe team chief Andy Rivkin said the current orbital period is 11 hours 55 minutes, and the team expects Kick to be about 10 minutes beyond the orbit of Dimorphos.

NASA will then collect data on how much the asteroid’s orbit changed after the impact.

The trajectory of Didymos may also be slightly affected, scientists say, but it will not endanger Earth on its course or inadvertently.

As DART accelerates toward Dimorphos, NASA scientists will turn their telescope lenses toward the crash site to see if the mission was a success.

The two asteroids will appear as tiny dots of reflected sunlight against the black background of space, and NASA will track the time between the pair of twinkling lights.

One light indicates that Dimorphos has passed in front of Didymos and the other, which specifies that Dimorphos orbits behind its parent asteroid.

Dimorphos measures about 525 feet, the size of two Statue of Liberty, and is orbiting a much larger asteroid called Didymos, which is 2,500 feet in diameter—the pair orbits the distant Sun.

Dimorphos measures about 525 feet, the size of two Statue of Liberty, and is orbiting a much larger asteroid called Didymos, which is 2,500 feet in diameter—the pair orbits the distant Sun.

Dimorphos and Didymos depicted here to scale with some of Earth's most famous landmarks

Dimorphos and Didymos depicted here to scale with some of Earth’s most famous landmarks

Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which built the Dart, said in a statement: 'It's just going to give it a little nudge.  'It's only going to be a change of 1 percent in that orbital period, so 11 hours and 55 minutes before that could be like 11 hours and 45 minutes'

Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which built the Dart, said in a statement: ‘It’s just going to give it a little nudge. ‘It’s only going to be a change of 1 percent in that orbital period, so 11 hours and 55 minutes before that could be like 11 hours and 45 minutes’

If Dimorphos’ orbit is extended to at least 73 seconds around Didymos, Dart would have successfully completed its mission.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is most interested in masses larger than 460 feet, which have the potential to flatten entire cities or regions with energy many times the energy of an average nuclear bomb.

There are 10,000 known near-Earth asteroids that measure 460 feet or more in size, but none have a significant chance of being hit in the next 100 years.

One major caveat: Only 40 percent of them…

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